We haven’t done a Random Universe post for a while, in which I fire up the laptop music stash (now over 21,000 songs) and write about the first 10 that shuffle out. So here we go.
“We Will Meet Again (For Harry)”/Bill Evans. The jazz pianist titled a number of his well-known compositions after members of his family and close friends—”Yet Ne’er Broken” is an anagram for his favorite cocaine dealer. His signature song, “Waltz for Debby,” is named for his niece, who was three years old when he wrote it. “We Will Meet Again” is dedicated to Debby’s father, Evans’ brother, Harry, who committed suicide in 1979.
“Hold the Line”/Toto. (The hideous train wreck is one of the risks you take on shuffle.) It strikes me that “Hold the Line,” despite being recorded by a band of session players who appeared on dozens of records in the 70s and 80s, doesn’t sound like either decade. It exists out of time in a way that later Toto hits do not.
“I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You”/Alan Parsons Project. This would have been a better fit after Bill Evans, starting as it does with a delicious electric piano tease. On that subject: I noticed this morning that the fabulous blog Never Enough Rhodes, dedicated to that addicting sound, had a new post earlier this month. The site went largely dark in 2009.
“On the Way Home”/Buffalo Springfield. A modest hit (#82 on the Hot 100 in October 1968) that should have been a smash. The fact that millions of people—or perhaps the problem is better identified as hundreds of radio stations—think the Buffalo Springfield’s career begins and ends with “For What It’s Worth” is a crime.
“Hi Heel Sneakers”/Blue Mitchell. The trumpeter played with Horace Silver in the early 60s and led his own band after that, which featured a young keyboard player named Chick Corea (who’s on “Hi Heel Sneakers,” a soul-jazz number recorded in 1965). As the sort of hard-bop he favored went out of style, he became a session and touring musician, playing with artists ranging from Tony Bennett to Ray Charles to John Mayall. He died in 1979 at age 49.
“Rich Get Richer”/O’Jays. From the 1975 album Survival, “Rich Get Richer” is a sort of sequel to “For the Love of Money,” another socially conscious Gamble and Huff joint about the corrupting power of money, including the lyric “There’s only 16 families that control the whole world.” The more things change . . . .
“Groovy Date”/Jimmy Smith. I have over 300 Jimmy Smith tracks in my library. He and Van Morrison are currently duking it out at the top of my most-played-artist list. “Groovy Date” is from A Date With Jimmy Smith Volume 2, on which Smith is backed by musicians including trumpeter Donald Byrd (who gets a major workout on this tune) saxophonist Hank Mobley (another favorite of mine, who wrote “Groovy Date”) and Art Blakey on drums.
“Rainy Day Women #12 and #35″/Ben Sidran. From a 2009 album called Dylan Different (which is precisely what the name implies—radical re-imaginings of Dylan tunes), the Coolest Man in Madison turns Dylan’s most cartoonish song into a sly jazz number. I’m currently reading Sidran’s biography, A Life in the Music, which I can’t recommend highly enough, even if you don’t know the first thing about him. He’s as engaging on the page as he is in person.
“God Bless the Child”/Blood Sweat & Tears. It’s one of the weirder stories in pop music: in 1970, at the moment of maximum public rage against the Vietnam War, BS&T signed aboard a State Department-sponsored tour of Eastern Europe, causing fans and critics to cry “sellout.” The group’s next album, BS&T 4, contained one great song, “Go Down Gamblin’,” but it also marked the end of a three-year period in which few stars burned brighter than theirs. When “God Bless the Child” came out on the group’s legendary second album (the one with “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and “Spinning Wheel”) all that was in the future.
“This Hard Land”/Bruce Springsteen. A real masterpiece, one of those grandly epic and soaring Springsteen songs, the kind of thing we’re so used to hearing from him that we scarcely notice them anymore. This version was recorded in 1982, although he later recut it for his Greatest Hits album in 1995. At that time, I recall him saying that the last verse of “This Hard Land” is one of his favorites among all the things he’s ever written:
Hey Frank won’t you pack your bags
And meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall
Just one kiss from you my brother
And we’ll ride until we fall
We’ll sleep out in the fields
We”ll sleep by the rivers
And in the morning we’ll make a plan
Well if you can’t make it stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive
And meet me in a dream of this hard land