When Don McLean came to Dartmouth in the spring of 1972 or so, he might have been the last man on the circuit I wanted to see. I was done with folk music, so I thought. I had moved on to the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane and Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. So when a classmate gave me his ticket to see McLean in Spaulding Auditorium on a Saturday night, I had a bad, bad attitude.
In performance the man just blew me away. He had arrived with his huge hit “American Pie,” but he was no one-hit wonder. He had a great catalog of songs to play on guitar and banjo and he would not quit until he had won everyone in the (large) audience over. He wore down my resistance. What Sammy Davis was to the nightclub scene (I had seen him with my parents and loved him too), McLean was to the college crowd. I left in awe.
When McLean released an album of his favorite songs a year or two later, I was interested. I bought it on vinyl and couldn’t wait to pick it up on compact disc years later, which I did, though it has long since gone out of print. He included one song on Playin’ Favorites that I have never heard performed by anyone else. The song is “Mountains O’Mourne” (video below), a sly gem that seems to have been awaiting McLean’s heartfelt performance.
Listening to WDCR (the college radio station) around the same time, I heard a song that knocked me out. It saved some part of a day I had rued. What was that song? I called over to the station to ask. It turned out to be the Youngbloods’ “Sunlight,” by Jesse Colin Young, off their album Elephant Mountain.
Jesse came out of the New York folk scene. I’d seen Jesse with the Youngbloods performing at Dartmouth in May 1970, but just didn’t appreciate them. Having come to love them subsequently, I caught up with Jesse when he played in Minneapolis a few years ago. I wrote about his show in “Elephant Mountain revisited” (a post that has disappeared from our archives) and posted my interview with him in “Aloha, Jesse.” I hope you like this one.
The Indigo Girls (Emily Saliers and Amy Ray) emerged out of the folk scene around Atlanta in the late 1980’s. I loved the singing and writing on their first album. I could hear that, as a folk duo, they had done their homework. They had studied up on Simon & Garfunkel, but they had added Lennon and McCartney to the mix as well.
I must have raved about them to my friend Linda Svitak at Faegre & Benson. A good listener, Linda gave me their album Nomads, Indians, Saints as a gift when I turned 40. I would have missed this song — “Watershed,” by Emily Saliers — if it weren’t for Linda.
As you might infer from the title, the song is about turning points. Looking back, however, the song conveys the need not only to be grateful for the good things we have found along the way, but also for the tragedies we have been spared. The first verse opens with an image: “Twisted guardrails on the highway, broken glass on the cement…” Something we’ve all seen, but perhaps passed without reflection. The song made me reflect.