Who WAS That Masked Musician?

Santana 'Smooth' with Rob ThomasThere’s an old recording of the song “Woodstock” (lyrics include “We are stardust, we are golden, we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…”) that keeps rolling through my mind. I haven’t actually heard it in many years. The most popular version, the one that is always played, referred to on most Web sites, and virtually named as “the best” (not in my opinion) is the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version.

A lot of people have performed the song through the years. If I recall correctly, it was written by Joni Mitchell. Iain/Ian Mathews recorded at least one version (sung a cappella — without music).

The version I’d like to track down was a studio cut by a glossy pop rock band of the late 1960s or early 1970s. They probably released their version in 1970 or 1971. The lead singer had a very high-pitched but soft voice. The group had great harmonies.

I used to hear this version all the time when I was young, even though it was by that time in my life already a “golden oldie”. But somehow the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version (recorded about the same time) became more popular and radio stations stopped playing the smoother version I had grown up with.

When I used to download songs from various services (I stopped doing that because digital rights management just makes the experience too frustrating and the cost-per-song is ridiculously too high), I often searched for the song. I couldn’t find the version I wanted, though I listened to many tracks in the hope of recognizing the familiar, haunting chorus.

I’ve tracked down other songs through the years. For example, Grupo Niche recorded a great Latin/Salsa song called “Oiga, Mire y Vea”. Johnny Walden used to play it all the time when he was teaching free Salsa lessons at Elvia’s Cantina in Houston. The tempo is slow enough that you could also dance Cha Cha to it.

Well, Johnny didn’t know the name of the song or who performed it. I got so frustrated asking my friends if they could name the song one weekend I walked into a music store and started sampling every Latin CD they had. Could not find the exact recording. Then, one night as I was waiting for friends to meet me at Plaza 59, the DJ played the song. I like to freaked out. I asked the hostess to write down the name and artist for me. She probably thought I was crazy.

Okay, I am crazy, but that’s beside the point.

Another song that drove me nuts for several years was “Sad Eyes” by Bruce Springsteen. I used to hear it on the radio while I was working late at night for an event management company in Georgia. I loved the song, but never paid attention to the credits when the DJs would name the songs in their playlists. Naturally, the song’s popularity waned with time and I heard it less and less often.

But I wanted to hear the song again and listened to dozens of Springsteen hits for months, whenever I had an opportunity, to try and identify the song. Finally, I started searching lyric Web sites to see if I could identify the words, but it had been so long since I heard the song I could only recall the melody. The words had faded beyond recall.

In desperation I sent an email to a Springsteen fan with an extensive site on his career. I asked her if she could help me identify the song, knowing nothing but that it sort of went “aiii-iii-iii”. I literally described it that way in my email. She took a guess and suggested “Sad Eyes”, which turned out to be the song I was looking for.

Another song that drove me nuts was a Santana tune that I only started to hear a couple of years after it had been released as a single. It was played a lot on radio stations around Houston but also came across many satellite feeds used by restaurants. I was sitting in the Bennigan’s at the Houston Galleria mall one day, eating lunch, when the song came on. I thought nothing about it but enjoyed listening to it, and then when the next song started I realized I wanted to buy the CD. I asked my server if he could recall the song, but he couldn’t. He asked another server but no one in the restaurant could name the song.

Frustrated, I walked over to a music store and began listening to all the Santana CDs I could find (do you have any idea of many albums Carlos Santana has recorded?). Naturally, I couldn’t find the song. Ready to give up, I went up to the sales clerk at the counter and asked him if he could help me identify a song. “How does it go?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “But I think it has something to do with the moon.”

Well, you can imagine how helpful that was. We talked a little more and he tried to coax the melody out of me, but I really couldn’t even do that. This song was just so haunting it only wanted to stay at the edge of my memory. “Are you sure it’s about the moon?” he asked.

“Well, I think it says something about the moon and the ocean,” I replied.

He shook his head and said, “Maybe it’s ‘Smooth’, which is a Santana song.” We walked over to the Santana CDs and he pulled the one with “Smooth” on it. Sure enough, that was what I was trying to find.

Another song that took me a few years to track down was “Have you ever loved a woman?” by Richard Marx — because it’s not by Richard Marx, but by Bryan Adams. Well, at least I remembered the title.

Maybe the first song that ever drove me nuts was the one I always thought of as the “flower girl” song. Never knew who recorded it or what it was called, but I loved hearing it every time it came on the radio when I was a kid. Eventually, the name of the band (The Cowsills) stayed in my mind but I kept thinking of it as the “flower girl” song (“I love the flower girl!”). The actual name is “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” — which I didn’t find out until many years had passed.

It’s not that people don’t say, “That was The Cowsills and ‘The Rain, The Park, & Other Things’,” when I hear these songs on the radio. They are often credited. I just start to groove and get lost in the melodies and forget to pay attention when the songs are over. Who wants to listen to a DJ speak when you have the guitars ringing in your ears, the melodies sliding across your bones, and the keyboards fading into a mesmerizing echo of contentment?

These songs are like warm fires on cold winter days, soft couches sheltered from drumming rainstorms, waterfalls playing on golden stones. You don’t stop to think that someone is about to tell you who recorded the song. You just want it to go on forever, firing synapses you didn’t realize existed. You breathe in the music and exhale dreams and mellowness.

And that’s why I want to know who recorded that song…the one about stardust and the garden. You know, the really smooth, karmalistic version that sends you drifting across the misty skies of forever.

Write down the artists’ name for me, will you, when you come back down to Earth? I’m never going to remember who they were….