The other day on the street, I could swear I heard someone call out “Jimmy McGregor,” and so I immediately thought of this song, which I hadn’t heard in years. One of the most interesting songs lyrically and musically on a Peter, Paul, and Mary album; it’s sung and written by “Paul,” that is, Noel Stookey.
In glorious vinyl, complete with comforting scratches at regular intervals.
I recently posted John Prine singing his song “Summer’s End.” I ran across this cover done by Brandi Carlile who has performed with Prine in the past, and I’ve been playing it non-stop all week, so I thought I’d share it with you. The purity of her voice makes a nice contrast to John Prine’s growl.
Dave Van Ronk claimed that it was really Tom Paxton of the NYC folk scene who first claimed the mantel of singer/songwriter among folkies, daring to sing mainly his own songs in the cafés, which led the way to Dylan and Ochs. Here’s a great Paxton song from fifty years ago that could have been written yesterday.
At the time, 1975, the song was a highly unlikely candidate for a pop hit. It may have been the first pop song for young women of high school age that wasn’t for the cheerleaders. It might be hard to recall now, in the age of Glee, but songs examining the inner lives of high school students who saw themselves as social outcasts were not, at the time, the common fare. Millions of young women saw themselves in the lyrics of the song, and suddenly the singer/songwriter, Janis Ian, who at age 14 had had a qualified (and often censored) hit with her song of interracial love, “Society’s Child,” was overnight an international star.
The clip above seems so raw, true, and natural that you might think it was just an amateur effort turned lucky. But Ian by that time had already had seven albums of music released and was an accomplished songwriter. It was the one time, though, she said, that she had penned a song and told her manager that she had just written a hit.
Tracy Chapman was an unlikely singer/songwriter to chart in the top 10 in 1988, but there was something so pure, authentic, and truthful in her singing that this song resonated with many and, improbably, became a hit.
A younger Carson McKee with a laid-backed version of the Dylan song. Carson sings the story and lyrics of the song so simply and straightforwardly that he makes it sound like an American Songbook standard.