Vice President Harris’s meditation on “the passage of time” got me thinking. Has she been listening to too much Al Stewart? Then I started writing down a list of songs that came to mind with a temporal theme somewhere in the mix. Perhaps we can take Harris’s rotten lemon and turn it into lemonade with selections from my list.
My only object here, as always, is to take a pause that refreshes and introduce readers to, or remind them of, some artists worth your time. This edition exceeds the bounds I had originally set for it, but I thought I would seize the moment and let it rip this week. As always, I have sought to double check the facts. I apologize in advance for any errors.
Al Stewart’s “Time Passages” (1978) presents our theme today. That’s Phil Kenzie on the saxophone. Let us not blame the song for Kamala Harris’s idiocy. She comes by it honestly.
Rodgers and Hart wrote “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” for a long-forgotten 1939 musical. Sarah Vaughan’s cover of the song backed by musicians including Roland Hanna and Joe Pass knocked me out when Crazy and Mixed Up came out in 1982.
“Time After Time” was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1946 for Frank Sinatra. Sarah Vaughan was nevertheless first out of the blocks with her recording of the song backed by the Teddy Wilson Quartet later that year. It’s been covered by many fine singers since. I don’t think Chris Montez is such a singer, but his cover was an unlikely hit in 1966. Sarah Vaughan performed a beautiful version of the song live on Sassy Swings the Tivoli (1963). You just can’t beat the touching live performance by Nancy LaMott below.
“Time Is On My Side” was written by Jerry Ragovoy and recorded by Kai Winding in 1963. The single credited an unnamed “vocal group” (they were Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston), but Ragovoy had only an inkling of the lyrics (“Time is on my side” and “You’ll come runnin’ back”). Irma Thomas picked up on the song and her arranger found Jimmy Norman to fill out the lyrics. The Rolling Stones took it from there. It must have been Irma Thomas’s version (below) that caught the attention of the Stones.
Cream bass player Jack Bruce wrote “Sleepy Time Time” with Janet Godfrey. It fit right in on Cream’s debut album in 1966. In the United States it was released on Fresh Cream in 1967. When the group beat back time to reunite for a performance at Royal Albert Hall in 2005, “Sleepy Time Time” was on the setlist.
“The Time Has Come Today” was written Willie Chambers and Joe Chambers for the Chambers Brothers. It became a hit single in 1967. The epic album track includes an extended “freak out” (below). I didn’t think twice about the “freak out” in 1967. It sounded normal to me. Warning: This recording may give you a contact high.
The Association recorded “Time For Livin'” in 1968. It appeared on their album Birthday. Written by brothers Dick Addrisi and Don Addrisi, the song may not have been to the taste of everyone in the group, but they came up with a lively vocal arrangement to support the advice rendered.
“Time and Love” was one of the many highlights of Laura Nyro’s classic New York Tendaberry in 1969. The one and only Ms. Nyro warned: “Don’t let the devil fool you.”
The question posed in Robert Lamm’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” sounds like a dialectical response to “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Lamm is the keyboard player for Chicago as well as one of its founding members. The song was the second track on the group’s self-titled 1969 debut album when the group was called Chicago Transit Authority.
Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” came out as a single by Billie Walker in 1961. It’s a songwriter’s song. I don’t think there is a better version than Elvis’s 1971 cover.
I first heard Eric Andersen’s “Time Run Like a Freight Train” on Stages: The Lost Album (1991). Columbia told him that it had lost the tapes of the album he had recorded in Nashville with Norbert Putnam and an incredible cast of backing musicians in late 1972 and early 1973, or so the story goes. When I saw Andersen live at the Cedar Cultural Center not too long after the release of the disc and asked him about it, he said that he thought Columbia had buried the tapes because they didn’t want to bother with the album. He rerecorded the song for Be True To You (1975). The version below is from the recovered tapes on Stages. What a beautiful track.
James Taylor included “Secret o’ Life” on his 1977 album JT. By my lights this is a perfect pop song. I would guess that he wrote it in connection with the birth of his son in January that year. I hear it as a father’s loving “welcome to the world.” Please, please don’t tell Kamala Harris “the secret o’ life.” Quotable quote: “Einstein said he could never understand it all.”
Tom Waits wrote the characteristically offbeat “Time” for Rain Dogs (1985). His mind works in strange ways. This is a lyrically challenging song.
The theme of “Closing Time” seems to hold a special appeal to professional musicians. I can’t wait until closing time comes for the Biden administration. In any event, this is Radney Foster’s 1992 contribution to the “closing time” variations.
Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” first appeared on The Future (1993). When he discovered that his manager had stolen most of his money while he was off engaged in spiritual pursuits, he resumed touring to rebuild his savings. I’m still kicking myself for skipping his 2009 show at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. I remember thinking I would have had to take out a second mortgage to buy two balcony tickets (which were the only seats left when I checked). Cohen’s tour gave us the live version of “Closing Time” from his London stop (below). Cohen had a sly, sly sense of humor that percolates through the lyrics.
Hometown heroes Semisonic had a hit with Dan Wilson’s “Closing Time” in 1998.
We’re ending on a high note. Cyndi Lauper wrote “Time After Time” with Rob Hyman. It appeared on her debut album in 1983 and became a number 1 hit upon its release as a single in 1984. The late Eva Cassidy turned in an otherworldly live version at Blues Alley in 1996.