Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Kingston Trio

I hear The Kingston Trio and I hear authentic folk music, acoustic guitar (Martins, no doubt), banjo, pure harmonies. No strings (well, later, ok), no electric piano, no piano at all, no saccharine.

But it’s an illusion. In its time, it was derided for its inauthenticity. 3 part harmonies? No way. Folk music was Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, none of it pretty. It’s just kind of a weird time perspective we have, and hearing through so many decades of the Barry Manilowization of everything, and so it's refreshing, and pure sounding. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Best Of The Kingston Trio was an LP I found at some library or other, long ago, and it ends at A Worried Man. So The Reverend Mr. Black, unaccountably left off, came from a Capital Records various artists promotional LP, and the rest comes from the actual singles.

The Kingston Trio:

Tom Dooley – The song that single handedly kicked off the “folk revival” of the early 60s. It’s an old folk song about a love triangle, murder, and execution. Fun. It was a number 1 hit in the fall of 1958. There’s an uptempo version by Lonnie Donegan.
Tijuana Jail – The fabled town on the Mexican border, to which so many have paid homage. Just ask Herb Alpert. This hard luck tale of some sap who finds himself in the slammer was a hit in the spring of 1959. The trio proves that they don’t take it all so seriously.
Scotch And Soda – Stripped down to the basics, guitar, bass, one voice. Booze as a metaphor for love, from the spring of 1962.
Bad Man’s Blunder – A humorous song about murder. From the summer of 1960.
Raspberries Strawberries – This is a wistful song about Paris, youth, love, old age and disillusionment, all in just about 2 minutes. From the winter of 1959.
M.T.A – When I came to this city in 2002 a monthly transit pass cost $50. Now (8 years later) it’s $70. That’s what? A 40% increase? The song goes one better. A ten cent fair rises in one go to 15 cents, that’s like 50%. Wow. And poor Charlie, the hero, doesn’t have the extra nickel, so he can’t get off the subway, and he rides forever. Poor poor Charlie. From the summer of 1959, when you could still get on the subway for 10 cents.
The Merry Minuet – this silly song about catastrophes of nature and man’s inhumanity captured the entire protest song movement in about a minute.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone – By Pete Seeger. This should be strident, but it’s not, an anti-war song that you can actually listen to. And it hasn’t dated all that much. Peter, Paul & Mary did a good version, not surprisingly, and Johnny River put it back on the chart, in a rather quirky version, in 1965. This is from the winter of 1962. You can hear John Stewart on this one.
Take Her Out Of Pity – Bizarre, but it’s kind of what Joe Tex was doing on Skinny Legs And All. A song about the misfortune of being unattractive, though I don’t think pity is all that useful for that kind of thing.
A Worried Man – This tribute to anxiety was a hit in the fall of 1959. A great album closer.
Greenback Dollar – That’s John Stewart again, on the second verse. I don’t give a **** about a greenback dollar they sing, because the censors didn’t allow then to say “damn.” So fill in any word you like. That’s how the original was, and it’s what I have. Reissues have reinstated the forbidden word. A hit in the winter of 1963. There’s a more than decent version by Jim Croce, back when he was still in his band. He says “damn.”
El Matador – A song about a bullfighter, and a serious one. Ernest Hemingway would be proud. From the winter of 1960.
The Patriot Game – Nationalism run amok. Another anti-war song. The tune is the one Dylan used for With God On Our Side, and Judy Collins did this on her Whales And Nightingales LP.
Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream – Yet another anti-war song. Simon & Garfunkel did this on their first LP.
Reverend Mr. Black – All about character, and turning the other cheek, especially when you have the wherewithal to fight back. It makes its point I guess, but it’s a bit simplistic. From the spring of 1963, their only top 10 hit besides Tom Dooley.
Home From The Hills – This is somber. Very somber
The New Frontier – At one time this was timely, but not by the time The Trio got hold of it.

1 comment:

John said...

"The Reverend Mr. Black" isn't on "The Best of the Kingston Trio" because when the album was first released in 1962 they hadn't yet recorded it. The same was true of "Greenback Dollar" and their remaining semi-hits-- these songs were on "Best of the Kingston Trio, Volume 2."

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