January 11 – Turntable Talk 10 : Those Prairie Winds

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Randy from Mostly Music Covers. There he largely looks at songs so good they’ve been done time and time again. And he hails from Canada, a land which has produced its share of fine songwriters from Paul Anka to Neil Young to Joni Mitchell and many more. But his pick is…

Four Strong Winds”

by Ian Tyson

This is my song pick for another assignment from Dave at A Sound Day, who suggested:

pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.”

This clip is from a reunion in 1986, 23 years after the song was first released and eleven years after the divorce of Ian and Sylvia who first recorded the song.

Think I’ll go out to Alberta
Weather’s good there in the fall
I got some friends that I could go to working for
Still, I wish you’d change your mind
If I ask you one more time
But we’ve been through this a hundred times or more

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
If the good times are all gone
Then I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

If I get there before the snow flies
And if things are looking good
You could meet me if I send you down the fare
But by then it would be winter
Not too much for you to do
And those winds sure can blow cold way out there

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
The good times are all gone
So I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

Still, I wish you’d change your mind
If I ask you one more time
But we’ve been through that a hundred times or more

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
If the good times are all gone
Then I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

Apart from being a part of Canadiana, for me this evocative song is the first time I recall being able to relate to the lyrics. Originally sung by the author, Ian Tyson, and his partner, also soon to become his wife, Sylvia (Fricker) Tyson. Known as Ian and Sylvia they released it in July of 1963. It would appear on the 1964 album of the same name. I was only four when the song came out so I was a bit too young to be relating to anything beyond “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, but it was such an iconic song in Canada at least, that I would have heard it many times by many singers as I was growing up.

However, the first time I really listened, and now with a bit of life experience was when it was covered by Neil Young. That was in 1978, so I’m 19 years old with a few relationships behind me and I’m very much into music. Now I’m understanding or at least trying to get the message from song lyrics. While I came to appreciate the original just as much, at that age it was Neil that was talking to me.

If you read the lyrics, there is nothing very complicated about them, but then many of the greatest songs are thus due to their seeming simplicity. Ian Tyson was a real Cowboy, I mean the riding, roping, and rodeoing kind. After a serious foot injury, he decided to take up the guitar while he was laid up. Long story short he ended up via the Toronto music scene mingling in New York’s Greenwich Village. This is where he met a guy named Bob Dylan. After a particular encounter he thought if Dylan can write his own songs than maybe he should give it a try. At his manager’s New York apartment, he wrote this song in about 20 minutes.

As I understand the story the first verse tells me the protagonist is looking for a change of scenery and that even though it’s not going to happen, they want a loved one to join them. The second verse is such a brilliant metaphor with “Four strong winds that blow lonely”, I hear that as the winds themselves are traveling in aimless directions and that they come to you and go again just as soon. Sea’s “running high” suggests so many things to me personally. I think of my visits to my mothers native Newfoundland and watching the crashing waves and I also picture my father on a Navy Ship at sea during WWII.

The words to me are saying these things are implacable, and when love is lost, it is us that must realize it’s time to move on, the wind and the sea will not. Again, I am at an age at that time where I was struggling with these very same feelings. I had the impulse to leave, to be “bound for moving on”. As the story progresses there is still a hope, a thought that maybe they can meet again, but reality sets in as does loneliness and “winds sure can blow cold”. Yet the wish to somehow reconcile “I wish you’d change you’re mind” is tempered with “we’ve been through that a hundred times or more”.

To me this song is about relationships and difficult choices. Knowing that its time to move on but at the same time it won’t be easy. If only things were different. The last line “I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way” seems sincere but based on the reality of the separation and the leaving it seems unlikely this will happen. It is something I have found people say, perhaps to ease the pain.

Here is a video of the Neil Young version with lyrics.

This song has been covered about 100 times. Notable versions include Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Harry Belafonte all from 1964. There is Judy Collins (1971) and she did a duet with Glen Campbell on his TV show in 1970. Also covered by John Denver (1988) and Johnny Cash in 2006.

I started to write this on the evening of December 28 and just as I was putting in the finishing touches and starting to edit, I learned that Ian Tyson passed away today December 29, 2022, at the age of 89. Rest in Peace, Mr. Tyson and thank-you for the songs and the memories.


January 1 – Record Store Cash Registers Weren’t Silent

New Year’s Day 1966 kick-started the career of one of pop/rock’s biggest acts. Whether they liked it – or even knew it – or not! “The Sound of Silence” hit #1 in the U.S., the first for Simon & Garfunkel. All the more remarkable since they had broken up by then and hadn’t heard their hit until it was a radio mainstay!

Simon and Garfunkel had some minor success in the second-half of the ’50s as Tom & Jerry. They had one chart hit in 1957 called “Hey Schoolgirl.” Then they’d gone on to school and different pursuits before reuniting around 1963 under the name we know. The fans of the burgeoning folk scene of the time put out an album of mostly Paul Simon-written songs called Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Despite having a “hip” folk sound and some good songs, it flopped. No more than 3000 copies were sold, Columbia Records weren’t pleased; Art Garfunkel buckled down to study at university and Paul Simon moved to Britain figuring them more receptive to his sound. Neither saw a future playing folk music together for a living.

As in many of these movie-worthy stories about rags to riches, that would’ve been the end of the story if not for the love of folk at Harvard University, and college radio. One or two DJs there found the under-the-radar Wednesday Morning, 3 AM and began playing it – especially “The Sound Of Silence”. At that point, a simple acoustic folk tune. It took off and soon was popular on campuses across New England.

Columbia Records noticed that and saw an opportunity to do with it what Bob Dylan had done – electrify. They figured if Dylan could increase his popularity “going electric” with songs like “Like A Rolling Stone”, so too could Simon & Garfunkel. So they called up their in-house producer, Tom Wilson (who, no coincidence had worked on Dylan’s recent albums) and had him add in some heavier instruments and remix the song. He quickly brought in guitarists Al Gorgoro and Vinnie Bell, bassist Joe Mack and drummer Bobby Gregg, recorded them, mixed it all together and Columbia were off to the races with a spanking-new 7” single!

Off to the races perhaps, but not to the telephone. Neither Simon nor Garfunkel knew of their record company’s experiment. Simon says he was “horrified” when he heard the new mix. “The key to ‘The Sound of Silence’,” he told NPR, “is the simplicity of the melody and the words, which are of youthful alienation….I think about songs and it’s not just what the words say, it’s what the sound says.”

The sound said “number one hit!” to American fans, and it knocked the Dave Clark Five out of #1 this day 57 years ago. They’d go on to have two more in the next few years, “Mrs. Robinson” and “Bridge over Troubled Water.”

They might not have liked the remix but they liked the attention and were soon – very soon – back together in the studio to hastily record their second album, built around this song and titled The Sounds of Silence. The record utilized the Wrecking Crew session musicians (including Glen Campbell) and gave us such classics as “Homeward Bound” and “I Am A Rock”. It would soon go to triple platinum status in their homeland.

December 6 – Byrds Hit 3000 Years In The Making

Occasionally a Christian rock band crossover and have a mainstream hit song. Jars of Clay or Sixpence None the Richer for example. But it’s far rarer for a mainstream rock band to have a hit with a song that not only is Christian in message but came straight from the Bible, but such was the case this week in 1965 when the Byrds had the #1 song in the U.S. with “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

The song had been written, as it were, by folkie Pete Seeger, who apparently recorded it around 1959. He created the melody but took the majority of the lyrics straight from the Bible’s Ecclesiastes, often credited to King Solomon in the range of three thousand years earlier. It essentially tells people life has its ups and downs : “a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance” and so forth. Seeger added the chorus, “turn turn turn” and the “I swear it’s not too late” to the ending “a time for peace.”

Among the acts who’d recorded it in the early-’60s were the Limeliters and Judy Collins. Collins happened to have Jim McGuinn helping her as a session musician on her take, and it stuck with him. Three years later, he’d started The Byrds and began preferring to be called “Roger” McGuinn. He figured it would be a good song for his folk-rock band, and correctly guessed the lines about peace would resonate with the public who were growing concerned over the Vietnam War. He said “it’s a standard folk song, but I played it and it came out rock & roll, because that’s what I’m programmed to do.”

It took over 70 takes in five days, but he got it done. And he got it done well, with his 12-string Rickenbacker, giving it that jangly sound they were so closely associated with and that would greatly influence later guitarists ranging from Susanna Hoffs to Peter Buck (today’s birthday boy by the way – Happy 66th Pete!). Add in some great harmonies behind him from David Crosby and Gene Clark and you had one great-sounding song, no matter what your religious persuasion might be. Billboard at the time noted it was “fascinating…performed with respect and taste, and a solid dance beat.”

Indeed it was. It became their second #1 song (“Mr. Tambourine Man” being the first, about six months earlier) and spent three weeks on top that December before the Dave Clark 5 replaced it with the not-too-differently titled “Over and Over.” It ended up being the #3 biggest-seller of 1965 at home, and did well in Canada too, where it reached #3 on the charts. It was a top 10 in West Germany , but was met with a cooler reception in Britain, making it to just #26.

With a good melody and lyrics that speak to most of us and our life experiences, it’s little wonder it would end up the Byrds biggest hit, and later be covered by artists ranging from Nina Simone to Dolly Parton to Chris Deburgh.

October 13 – Literature For Folk?

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Rushdie…Dylan? It was a big surprise six years ago today when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Bob Dylan! Dylan won the prize for literature in 2016.

Needless to say, Dylan is one of the most respected singer/songwriters in music history and had won a slew of awards before, including winning 10 Grammy Awards and being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “one of the greatest songwriters of all time, a gifted wordsmith with political conscience …and a poet-like acumen for meter and language.” He even got a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture.” But the Nobel Prize… well, that was something altogether different.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded annually to the writer “who produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” It had in the past been awarded to a number of great fiction writers including Rudyard Kipling and John Steinbeck as well as some notable poets, like Yeats and Pablo Neruda. Dylan though, was the first person ever awarded it who’d worked mainly in music. The committee noted they picked him “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He became the first American to win it since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993; before that Steinbeck was the previous U.S. recipient way back in 1962. Winners since Dylan include one more American, poet Louise Gluck, plus writers like Kazuo Ishiguro and Peter Handke, suggesting that an American musician being chosen really was something of a unicorn.

Dylan didn’t rush to get the prize and the approximately $900 000 that goes with it. It took him until early 2017 to go to Sweden and deliver an acceptance speech, in private and pick up the honor. Ironically, part of the reason was that he said he was dumbfounded to be picked for it and the honor left him “truly beyond words!”

June 10 – If They Keep Sounding Like This, They Will ‘Stay Gold’

The U.S.A. is a mirage-like beacon for people around the world; one which holds an almost mythical appeal which is often unnoticed by its residents. But not to outsiders. It might in part explain why in the ’90s, Rolling Stone once opined that America’s best band was Canadian (Blue Rodeo). Or why perhaps the best “Americana” act going these days is not even from the same continent! “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America,” as Simon & Garfunkel once sang. Little surprise that Sweden’s First Aid Kit chose that to be one of their signature tunes. The Swede sisters began to hit it big five years ago with their third album, Stay Gold, released here this day in 2014.

The Soderberg sisters had become stars at home in Sweden about six years earlier, initially through homemade Youtube videos. A couple of well-received albums at home had built their following and gotten them noticed at least in Britain. With a record deal with Columbia, worldwide publicity and distribution followed, beginning with Stay Gold. While it carried on where the first records left off – folksy guitar-based tunes with strong melodies and great harmonies from Klara and Johanna – this one added in a fuller sound and better production values courtesy the bigger budget and more adventurous producing from Bright Eyes’ Mike Magis who played everything from banjo to dulcimer himself to back the girls and their guitars but also brought in a full orchestral string section for several songs, including the title track and “Cedar Lane”, a song the Guardian labeled their “finest moment.” Strong melodies, simple arrangements and lyrics of promised lands and loves lost could have just as easily originated from Tom Petty or Neil Young as a pair of young Swedish women, which helped explain the record’s appeal.

While it went platinum and to #1 in their homeland, as the previous album had, it also ran up to #11 in the UK, #18 in Canada, and #23 in the U.S. they sounded a part of (and where it was recorded, in Omaha of all places, adding to its Heartland authenticity.) All were significant improvements in sales over their small-label predecessors. The lilting “My Silver Lining” became their third top 40 hit in their homeland and the first to get notable airplay in North America, hitting #22 on Adult Contemporary radio in the States.

Critics (as well as yours truly here at A Sound Day) generally loved the album. Many gave it about an 80% rating. For instance, Spin and the NME each gave it 8/10; Q and Britain’s The Guardian each rated it 4-stars (out of 5.) The NME were surprised that “even the big old Columbia paycheque can’t bring a smile to the duo’s faces” but that was a “blessing for fans of lush, melodic symphonic emoting.” Rolling Stone called it “sublime drifter poetry” and suggested they “blossomed into an excellent indie-country act,”

Among the fans of Stay Gold was Peter Buck of R.E.M. who helped out on their 2018 album, Ruins which sold a little better still in North America. Currently the duo appear to be on a bit of a hiatus, perhaps because Johanna had a baby in 2020. However, they did put out a new album quite recently, Who By Fire, a recording of a concert they played in 2017 honoring Leonard Cohen.

May 29 – Buckley’s Ill-fated Midnight Dip

A talented artist left us too soon. It takes something special to be listed among the 40 greatest singers ever by Rolling Stone if you only had one album out in your lifetime. Jeff Buckley was that special. Rather like Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley died young and fairly un-noticed but would go on to great renown posthumously.

The folk/rock singer drowned on this day in 1997 at age 30 after going for a swim in the Mississippi off Memphis, where he was staying and working on his second album. His family point out his autopsy showed him free of drugs and alcohol and noted he was in good spirits – he just made a bad decision to go swimming, fully clad, in a huge river at night. He grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Rush (oddly since his dad, Tim was a renowned folk singer) and eked out a living as a session guitarist around the beginning of the ’90s before signing on to Columbia. His first – and only real – album, 1994’s Grace, had won great critical praise (Jimmy Page called it his favorite album of the decade and David Bowie once said it would be the one album he’d take to a desert island) but rather poor sales. It is still ranked among Rolling Stone‘s 500 greatest albums of all-time, with them describing him as the “voice of an over-sexed angel.” As Seth Jacobsen of the Daily Mirror put it, “in an era when the soundtrack to angst was defined by grungey guitars and plaid shirts, Jeff Buckley’s delicate melodies and aesthetic sensibilities set him in a world apart.” Likewise, allmusic rated it a perfect 5-stars calling it “audacious” but full of “sweeping choruses, bombastic arrangements, searching lyrics and above all, the richly textured voice.” However, when he was referenced on American Idol in 2008, when someone sang Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” (which Buckley had recorded in perhaps its finest form), sales took off. the single was downloaded over 175 000 times in one week, the album began to sell and he got the notice not afforded him in his lifetime. His family got ahold of some demos he had been working on which were released posthumously. Rolling Stone now call him the 39th greatest singer of all-time and Song Facts often report “Hallelujah” as their most searched song.

Sadly, he did follow in his dad’s footsteps in a couple of ways. Both saw their fame and recognition rise after their death and both passed away young. His dad died of an overdose at age 28.

April 9 – The ’60s Song About The Previous ’60s

It’s an important date in American history. It was this day in 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered, with thousands of Confederate soldiers in tow, to General Grant and the Union Army, in central Virginia. That effectively ended the Civil War. It was nearly four years to the day since the opening salvos had been fired by the Confederates at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and put an end to probably the bleakest chapter in U.S. history, a war which left over 600 000 dead. An important day in history, but how does that pertain to music, you might ask? Well, read on, because that one event in the 1860s probably inspired one of the great songs of the 1960s. After all, it was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Not only is The Band song one of the great examples of Americana music from the rock era, it is also perhaps the best example of musical story-telling about the Civil War. As a writer for Rolling Stone at the time it came out said, “nothing I have read has brought home the overwhelming sense of history that this song does.”

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was from The Band’s self-titled, second album, released in the second half of 1969. It came about under unusual circumstances for a song of its nature. The Band was mostly Canadian, and they recorded it in Hollywood – in fact in Sammy Davis’ Jr.’s house, which they rented for a bit of time while he was out of town. The song’s credited to Robbie Robertson, the Toronto-born, half-Native Indian guitarist for them. Some might notice the coincidence that not only did a Canadian write one of the songs most critical of the U.S. South (Neil Young’s “Southern Man”) another Canuck would write one sometimes seen as a strong defence of its ways.  However, not only did The Band have its musical roots in the rural American South, it did have one member from those parts – drummer Levon Helm. Helm was from a small town in Arkansas, and like many from down there, he had an interest in the history of the War. He says “Robbie and I worked on (it) up in Woodstock. I remember taking him to the library, so he could research the history and geography of the area.” He always claimed to have helped write the song, but like many in The Band catalog, Robertson claimed sole rights to it. He says he got fascinated after repeatedly hearing the phrase “the South will rise again” when in the southern states. It took him eight months to write and “Levon’s connection to it was things that he turned me on to…just kind of showing me around” when they visited his home area in the South.

Whoever wrote it, the song is a poignant look at the effects of the war on ordinary, working folk, told through the eyes of Virgil Cain. While Cain is apparently entirely fictitious, many of the things described in the song were real, such as of course, General Robert E. Lee, the “Danville train” (the Richmond & Danville Railroad was an important line for moving Confederate soldiers and supplies) and “Stoneman’s cavalry”, a Union army team that would conduct raids on the train.

Fittingly the country-ish song was sung primarily by Helm, with Rick Danko and Richard Manuel joining in on the chorus. The Band put it out as the b-side to the single “Up on Cripple Creek”, but it turned into a “two-sided single” with both songs getting some airplay on radio in many places. It got to #10 in Canada and #25 in the U.S., making it the highest-charting one for The Band, and helping the album become their biggest-selling one besides compilations. It’s aura and reputation have grown in the time since, with Pitchfork ranking it as the 42nd best song of the decade and Rolling Stone listing it repeatedly among the top 300 of all-time.

The song got a second life not long afterwards when folk star Joan Baez recorded it. She recorded it in a slightly more upbeat fashion (“a little too happy-go-lucky for me,” Robertson says although he admits he likes the attention – read royalty money? – it brought him) with a full chorus of 20 studio musicians, including a not-yet-famous Jimmy Buffett. She didn’t have written lyrics so she sang what she heard, thus a few lyrics were a bit different – “Stoneman’s cavalry” became “so many cavalry” for instance. It became her biggest hit song, reaching #3 on the charts in North America in 1971.

Although there have been some predictable cries of condemnation suggesting it is a racist or pro-slavery song, most hear it as a rivoting tale about the human toll of a nation in crisis. Among the others to record it since are the Allman Brothers, Sophie B. Hawkins and Johnny Cash.

March 30 – Chapman Had Fast Lane To Early Stardom

Neo-hippie singer/songwriters were a dime a dozen around the end of the ’60s. But as the ’80s neared an end, not so much. Which is part of what makes today’s birthday girl so special. Happy 58th, Tracy Chapman!

Not only did Tracy come along about two decades after her genre had peaked, she broke ground as well by being a Black artist in one of the more exclusively-white areas of music. She remembers being given a ukulele by her music-loving mom when she was just three, but wanting to play guitar when she saw Hee Haw on TV! Her mom again obliged, and by eight, young Tracy was learning that instrument. Although she grew up in a poor neighborhood in Cleveland, she was smart and hard-working and won a scholarship to a ritzy private Connecticut high school, which in turn led her to university in the ’80s, where she got a degree in anthropology. She told PBS’ Tavis Smiley that the contrast between the poor, largely Black neighborhood she grew up in and the wealthy and largely-White schools she attended later on had a major influence on how she saw life, and the music she listened to.

After university, she’d become a popular cafe performer in Boston when she got signed to Elektra Records, who went out on a bit of a limb. As journalist Siobhan O’Neill reminds us, in the late-’80s artists like Tiffany, Whitney and Roxette were the rage and “a young Black woman singing socially-aware folk tunes about poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence was the polar opposite of what was topping the charts.” Nonetheless, Elektra gave her room to do her thing, and it paid off. Her self-titled debut album hit #1 in a range of countries, including the U.S., where it’s 6X platinum, the UK, Canada and Germany, helped along greatly by the world-weary “Fast Car”, a top 10 hit throughout much of the world. The song about the struggling waitress with hope for a better tomorrow won her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance and helped her snag the Best New Artist one as well, while across the sea, she took home Brit Awards for Best International Female Artist and Breakthrough Artist of the Year. Around that time, she was involved in playing Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday party and concerts for Amnesty International. As VH1 point out, “along with 10 000 Maniacs and R.E.M., Chapman’s liberal politics proved enormously influential on American campuses.”

Although she failed to capture lightning in a jar again – none of her seven subsequent studio albums were chart-topping, although her next three or four still earned various platinum awards – she remained popular throughout the ’90s and as allmusic say, “helped restore singer-songwriters to the spotlight.” Fittingly, she was one of the headliners during the first Lilith Fair tour.

Chapman’s been pretty quiet for over a decade, save for a Greatest Hits CD in 2015, which included a popular live performance of “Stand By Me” she’d done on Letterman’s show. Since then the only time she’s been in music news was when she sued rapper Nicki Minaj for sampling her song “Baby Can I Hold You” on one of her records. Although a judge refused to block Minaj from releasing her own song, she did pay Chapman $450 000 to avoid a trial. However, the private Chapman (she says “I have a public life, that’s my work and my private life.”) is still involved in a number of human rights’ charities, advocating on behalf of her Cleveland’s public schools and even being a judge at the Sundance film Festival.

March 23 – Songs To Seagulls And With Eagles

A few days back we looked at Bob Dylan’s first album and noted while it was the debut of a great artist, it wasn’t necessarily a great debut. Today, the same could be said about the first one from an artist Pitchfork call “Mary Magdalene to Dylan’s folk rock messiah” – Joni Mitchell. Her debut, Song To A Seagull, came out this day in 1968.

By this time, Joni was 24 and had become something of a star in her native Canada, with her spending time in Toronto’s hot Yorkville folk scene, then relocated to the U.S., living briefly in Detroit then “found” and relocated to L.A.’s artsy Laurel Canyon by David Crosby . She’d already established herself as a decent songwriter, with several artist recording her work, including Judy Collins’ who had a hit with her “Both Sides Now” right around the time this album was hitting the stores.

Crosby helped Mitchell get a good contract with Reprise Records, with an unusual amount of control over her own music. The downside was he also got to produce Song to a Seagull, a rather simple, 10-song, 38-minute effort of her own songs with limited outside help. Mitchell played guitar and piano, even painted the cover as she usually did with her records, and Stephen Stills added bass in places. (To top it off, at the time she was living with the other member of CSN, Graham Nash, which prompted him to write the song “Our House (Is A Very, Very Fine House.)” The problem was Crosby didn’t seem to have the knack of producing at that point. He placed mics oddly in the studio and ended up with a lot of ambient noise and hiss on the masters. He sought to eliminate that, mainly by wiping out the high end treble… resulting in what Joni would say made it “sound like it was recorded under a jello bowl”. Wikipedia term it sound with a “flat feel.” (In case you’re wondering, Mitchell eventually re-mixed and mastered it herself, and the better result came out last year on Rhino Records.)

She dedicated the record to “Mr. Kratzmann,” her grade 7 teacher, “who taught me to love words.” And while the album, seemingly her first impressions of L.A., didn’t have any hit songs or ones which live on widely – unlike the one she wrote for Collins – it got her noticed as a fine singer/songwriter, with songs like “Night In the City”, “Pirate of Penance” and the title track for the seabird. Although it barely even nicked the top 200 album chart and was one of only a few of her early records not to go gold anywhere, it got her on her way and by her next album, Clouds, with the single “Chelsea Morning” she began to become a significant artist on the charts and radio.

Perhaps Joni felt a bit sentimental about March 23, because 20 years to the day after Song To A Seagull, she put out her 13th studio album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. The 1988 album was quite a departure from the first (and many of Joni’s albums), because it had some glossy production, courtesy Larry Klein who co-produced it and co-wrote several of the songs with her . For it she called on a number of her famous friends… Tom Petty, members of Prince’s backing band, Benjamin Orr of the Cars and more. Particularly of note were Willie Nelson, who sang with her on “Cool Water”, Billy Idol and his guitarist Steve Stevens, who appeared on “Dancing Fool” (“it was for the contrast he provided,” she said about having Idol on the record. “He brings real life to the part”) , Don Henley, who sang on “Snakes and Ladders” and Peter Gabriel. Gabriel joined her on the single “My Secret Place”, a song she recorded in Gabriel’s studio in England. The album mixed straight-forward love songs like that one with more socially-aware ones like “Lakota”, about disappearing American Indian culture, and “Beat of Black Wings”, a lament of Vietnam vets with PTSD.

This one got middling reviews. Both Rolling Stone and allmusic rate it 3-stars.The former noted that somehow “as Mitchell has grown older…the assumed priority of words over music has reversed,” suggesting the music was largely for the tunes and beats more than her poetry. Allmusic note “Mitchell uses vocal firepower over spare tracks, heavy on percussion” which now “already begins to sound dated.”

That notwithstanding, the public took to it better than some of her releases. It got to #23 in Canada and #26 in the UK, with “My Secret Place” being a minor hit single in Canada, where the album did go gold, no doubt to the relief of Geffen Records. That made her first gold record anywhere since she’d joined that label at the start of the decade.

Alas, Joni didn’t keep the trend going and release an album on this day in 2008. In fact, her last album of new material came out in 2007 and she’s said she’s retired from music, lately splitting her time between L.A. and Canada and spending much of her spare time painting or drawing.

March 19 – Village Kid A Good Find For Columbia 60 Years Ago

A debut of a great artist but not necessarily a great debut. That’s one way to summarize Bob Dylan‘s appearance on the scene 60 years ago! His self-titled, first album came out this day in 1962.

Dylan was at the time only 20 years old, and a newcomer, but rising star in the New York Greenwich Village folk music scene. He’d moved to the Big Apple about a year earlier, in no small part to be able to visit his idol and inspiration Woody Guthrie who was very ill in hospital there at the time. He’d built up a small following playing his blues-inspired folk around cafes and clubs in the city and when he wasn’t playing them, he was either watching other singers or listening to folk records most of the time. Producer John Hammond met him while he was doing session work playing harmonica on an album by another New York folkie, Caroyln Hester. Hammond was so impressed he got Columbia Records to sign Dylan right away. He then got to produce Bob Dylan…which might have left him rethinking his choice, at least for awhile! “Bobby popped every ‘p’, hissed every ‘s’”, he’d say later, “he habitually wandered off mic. Even more frustrating, he refused to learn from his mistakes.”

Be that as it may, they managed to get the album recorded at Columbia’s own studios in three afternoons for a cost of $402. They recorded 17 songs, of which 13 made it onto the debut. There were 11 covers plus a couple of originals, “Talkin’ New York” and “Song To Woody,” an ode to his musical muse Guthrie. Among the covers were a number of blues standards, at times re-arranged by Dylan, including “In My Time Of Dyin’”, “Gospel Plow,” “House of the Risin’ Sun” and “Pretty Peggy O”; and covers of old bluesmen like Curtis Jones “Highway 51.” The album was about as basic and solo as can be, with just Bob, his acoustic guitar and harmonica for a feeling very much like one would have gotten watching him in one of those early-’60s cafes.

Few noticed it when it hit the shelves. One exception was Billboard, which looked to be brilliantly prophetic by stating him to be “one of the most interesting and disciplined youngsters to appear on the folk-pop scene in a long time.” While they were only lukewarm to his many covers, they liked his two originals and thought “when he finds his own style, (he) could win a big following.”

Which, six decades and one Nobel Prize for literature later, it’s fair to say he did. But this album didn’t do it for him; it failed to chart in the U.S. – ever. In Britain, it did reach #13, a few years later after he’d become successful.

More recent reviews have been kinder. Entertainment Weekly graded it a “B” and allmusic gave it 4-stars. They compare it to the first Beatles and Stones records, in that it is “outclassing most, if not all, of what came before in the genre, but similarly eclipsed by the artist’s own subsequent efforts.”

And a lot of those have been around. Dylan put out his 39th studio album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, in 2020, remarkably still on the Columbia label. They also put three of the outtakes from the sessions on an official “bootleg” (Bootleg Series, Volume 1) in 1991, including one more Dylan original, “Man on the Street.” And through curious variations of international law, the Columbia copyright for the record expired in 2012 in the E.U. (it didn’t in North America) so a small company called Hoodoo Records put out a deluxe edition of it that year, with a second disc of early live recordings and the single “Mixed Up Confusion” , which was out about the same time as the album but not included on it.