(Above: Mayday, this is Echo Hotel.)
The first winter storm warning of the season is upon us for 2018. Unfortunately, it’s hitting a good portion of the plains and upper Midwest on the busiest travel day of the year: the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Each year more travelers fly on this day more than other, and it makes sense: you can roll in any time you want for Thanksgiving, but you usually have to be back to work by Monday. As of 2PM Chicago time today there were more than three hundred flights cancelled at O’Hare airport, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.
In early 1991 I was working for WXLP in Davenport, Iowa when a winter storm hit. I learned that Davenport had an interesting way of dealing with heavy snowfall: they didn’t plow it until the snow stopped. It seemed more efficient to the public works department to only run the plows once. Needless to say, getting my little red Nissan over the bridge from Illinois and into work was challenging. While crawling in traffic I heard Malcolm Ryker play “Stranded” on the station, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
“Stranded” began its life as a song called “Stranded in Iowa.” This makes sense, since that’s what passes for a chorus in the tune. It was written by Mike Heron, a Scottish musician who played at Woodstock as the founding member of the Incredible String Band. Many don’t remember their appearance there: the band refused to play in the rain on Friday, which was the day for the acoustic acts. They were rescheduled to Saturday, and the folk music didn’t play well with the crowd, who were more likely wanting to hear Canned Heat, who followed them. Their performance was not included in the film Woodstock, the band had no US singles, and disbanded in 1974.
Heron started releasing his own work in 1971, including an album called Smiling Men with Bad Reputations. The list of contributors to that album reads like a Who’s Who of Early 70’s Rock: Pete Townsend and Keith Moon of the Who, Ronnie Lane of the Faces, Elton John, and Steve Winwood all assist on the effort. Free of his responsibilities with ISB, he went on to form Mike Heron’s Reputation, which came to be known simply as Heron. In 1977 the band released an album called Diamond of Dreams, and that’s the album that gave us “Stranded in Iowa.”
Enter Manfred Mann. The Earth Band released Chance in 1980. On the heels of their success in 1977 with The Roaring Silence (and its #1 track, Bruce Springsteen-composed “Blinded By the Light“), the band again turned to Bruce by covering “For You,” a song from Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ that I have always loved. (It’s the homecoming song that I referred to in the homecoming post.) The second side of the LP opens with “Stranded,” which lists both Heron and Manfred Mann as co-composers. Why the change? Mann has re-worked the tune – and added a lot of pre-recorded elements, including a hypnotic form of weather data voiced pleasantly by a British woman and news clips about storm rescue in which a British man tells us that people were “using a torch,” which is what Americans call a flashlight. “Stranded” was never released as a single, and it likely wouldn’t have mattered in the US: only one song off of Chance did well anywhere, and that was “Lies (Through the 80s),” which reached #26 on the Netherlands pop chart.) Even “For You” failed to crack the Hot 100 in the US.
No, it wasn’t a hit, in any incarnation. But it’s a record that, any time I find myself driving amidst a sudden lake effect snow shower, I begin singing. If we get the predicted snow totals for tomorrow – up to 12 inches for my entire commute – I may even be trying to connect to Mike November.
Avoid the snowdrifts. You can hear the LP version of “Stranded” by clicking here.