What I’ve Been Listening To: Carole King: Tapestry

From the first to the last note Tapestry beautifully shines, truly making it a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

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Carole King’s Tapestry set a new standard in the singer-songwriter category. The benchmark has yet to be surpassed, almost 46 years after the album’s release in February 1971.

Apart from its great music, I will always connect Tapestry with the time in the mid-70s when I started to get into music. My sister had the record and was playing it all the time. Recently, I got a vinyl copy of this gem as well. I had owned it on CD for many years, but nothing beats the vinyl experience!

While Tapestry brought Carole King on the map as a solo artist, at the time of its release she already had been a successful songwriter for other artists for more than a decade. Together with her lyricist and first husband Gerry Goffin, Carole had written a number of major hits during the 60s, such as The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), Take Good Care of My Baby (Bobby Vee), One Fine Day (The Chiffons), Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees) and, not to forget, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin).

But back to Tapestry, which was Carole’s second studio release. Her debut, Writer, did not receive much initial attention, though that changed when Tapestry became popular. It’s one of those rare albums where I almost find it impossible to point out obvious highlights – each of its 12 tunes is simply outstanding, making it worthwhile to listen from the first song to the last song.

The opener I Feel The Earth Move is one of only a few up-tempo tunes on the album with a dose of rock and blues. Another great song in this category is Smackwater Jack. It is also one of three tunes from the 60s Goffin-King songwriting era. The other two are the beautiful ballads Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and Natural Woman.

If I would have to choose my favorite from Tapestry, it would be You’ve Got A Friend, both musically and in terms of its exceptionally beautiful lyrics. It is one of various tunes featuring James Taylor, who also recorded his own version, which became one of his signature songs.

Another tune I’m particularly fond of is Way Over Yonder. In addition to great lyrics, Carole’s singing and piano-playing are outstanding. But what’s really giving me the goose bumps is the background vocal (Merry Clayton) and the tenor sax solo (Curtis Amy).

Speaking of additional musicians, Tapestry features numerous of them, though most of the songs are dominated by Carole’s powerful voice and piano. Additional instrumentation is oftentimes in the background, especially for the ballads, which gives the songs great dynamic. Some of the fantastic musicians include Danny Kootch (acoustic and electric guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Charles Larkey (bass), Carol’s second husband at the time. Oh, and there is Joni Mitchell, who shares background vocals with James Taylor on Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Tapestry has sold over 25 million copies worldwide, including more than 10 million in the U.S., making it one of the most successful albums of all time. It is No. 36 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here is a great clip of You’ve Got A Friend with just Carole and her piano – that’s all you need!

On This Day in Rock History: January 22

My last installment for this recurring feature was Thanksgiving, so I thought it’s time for another post.

Let’s take a look what happened on January 22nd throughout rock history. As with previous posts, “throughout” mostly means the 60s and 70s, my favorite decades in rock music.

1959: Buddy Holly made his last recordings in his New York City apartment, less than two weeks before he would be killed in a tragic plane crash on Feb 3, 1959, together with two other rock & roll stars, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, along with the pilot. Accompanying himself with just an acoustic guitar, Holly taped six songs: Peggy Sue Got Married, Crying, Waiting, Hoping, That’s What They Say, What to To, Learning the Game and That Makes it Tough. All of these tunes were overdubbed and released posthumously.

1966: The Beach Boys recorded Wouldn’t It Be Nice, the opener of their legendary concept album Pet Sounds, the band’s 11th studio release and Brian Wilson’s response to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. Written by Wilson, Tony Asher and Mike Love, Wouldn’t It Be Nice was also released as the album’s second single, paired with God Only Knows. The tune made it to No. 8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and remained in this chart for 11 weeks.

1967: The Monkees performed a sold-out show at The Cow Palace in San Francisco. The band’s first live gig at that venue came a month after their very first live performance in Hawaii. Formed in LA in 1965 for the American television series The Monkees, this band of musician-actors could not play live initially, mostly because Micky Dolenz who was assigned to play the drums for the TV series wasn’t a real drummer and only subsequently learned how to play the instrument.

1969: The Beatles met at Apple Studios for their 11th day of the Get Back/Let It Be Sessions. This was also the first time the band was joined by Billy Preston, who happened to be in London to play with Ray Charles and had been invited by George Harrison. The session focused on three songs: Don’t Let Me Down, I’ve Got A Feeling and Dig A Pony. According to The Beatles Bible, Preston’s “presence on piano and keyboards helped flesh out the sound considerably, which was helpful given the ‘no overdubs’ rule of the sessions.”

1972: Don McLean’s defining album American Pie hit No. 1 on the Billboard Album Chart and held that spot for seven weeks. McLean’s second studio album would remain in the chart for almost one year. It’s best known for the legendary 8 1/2-minute title track, which alludes to the death of Buddy Holly in the opening verses, though the ambiguous lyrics go much beyond that, as McLean acknowledged in subsequent media interviews.

1977: Wings Over America, a live album from Paul McCartney and his band at the time, Wings, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Released six months after their U.S. tour, it was the first triple-record album to hit the top spot on this U.S. chart. For more on this fantastic album, see my post from last August.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Fleetwood Mac: Rumours

This 1976 jewel is another album I recently purchased on vinyl.

Rumours was the first Fleetwood Mac album I listened to and taped on a music cassette when I was a teenager many moons ago. So when I recently spotted it while browsing through vinyl records at a great “old-fashioned” record store not far from my house, I had to buy it!

Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album certainly doesn’t sound anything like the band’s origins in 1967 when Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers to form Fleetwood Mac, together with slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning. Of course, the band’s transition to mainstream, pop-oriented rock had started with their eponymous album in 1975, featuring for the first time what would become Fleetwood Mac’s most successful line-up: Fleetwood, Lindsey BuckinghamStevie Nicks, John McVie and Christine McVie.

More than 40 years after its release, Rumours still hasn’t lost any of its magic. The album produced four singles that charted in the Top 10 in the U.S., which remain staples on many pop rock radio stations to this day: Go Your Own Way, Dreams, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun. Dreams was the most successful of the bunch, hitting the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for one week. Interestingly, the song was the band’s only No. 1 hit on that chart, selling more than a million copies.

Other album highlights include The Chain, the only song credited to all five members of the band, and Gold Dust Woman, one of three tunes that were solely written by Nicks. And then there is Never Going Back Again, a jewel written by Buckingham, which showcases his excellent acoustic guitar skills.

Speaking of Buckingham, in my opinion, he is one of the most remarkable guitarists who managed to develop his one signature style. There is really no one else who sounds like him! I was a bit surprised to see he was “only” ranked 100th in Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. After initially using Gibson and Fender guitars, Buckingham worked with guitar builder Rick Turner to create his own electric guitar, The Turner Model 1. He has used it ever since. Pretty cool in my book!

Earlier this month, Rolling Stone reported that Buckingham and Christine McVie are working on a duet album, which they are aiming to release in May. While it includes contributions from Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the album will be released under the moniker Buckingham McVie. The same story also refers to a previous interview with Fleetwood, in which he confirmed the band had recorded new music since Christine McVie’s return in January 2014. But he added very little of that material includes Nicks, so for the time being, a new Fleetwood Mac album seems to remain, well, a rumour!

I’d like to finish this post with a great clip of Go Your Own Way, which is from the band’s Dance Tour ’97. BTW, I saw Fleetwood Mac in 2013 in New Jersey, just a few months before Christine McVie returned, and they sounded just as awesome as in the clip.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV remains a gem, more than 45 years after the album’s release.

Why do a post about Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album now? Well, why not? I don’t really need a specific reason ever to write about great rock music, especially this 1971 classic. But the fact I’m musing about this album today is not entirely a coincidence either.

Yesterday, I went to an old-fashioned record store not far from my house, Revilla Grooves & Gear, and purchased three records – my first “new” vinyl albums in three decades! I’m saying “new,” since this great store almost exclusively sells previously owned vinyl records, as well as vintage Hi-Fi equipment – a place to get lost and find true treasures! And, yes, by now you probably figured it out: one of the LPs I got is Led Zeppelin IV, which until yesterday I had owned on CD only.

The first Zeppelin tune I ever heard was Stairway to Heaven, which must have been in the late 1970s. At the time, I was starting to take (Spanish) guitar lessons. The song’s acoustic opening was an immediate draw, and it wasn’t long thereafter that I asked my guitar instructor to teach me how to play it – took a while to figure it out! In fact, I’ve been practicing it again lately. But I’m no longer playing as much as I used to and have lost a good deal of dexterity, so doing it justice nowadays is not easy!

Since an 8-minute song is a tough proposition for any mainstream radio station, they always faded out Stairway during the transition to the hard rock section. I still vividly remember when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I thought, ‘oh no, how could the band have ruined this beautiful acoustic masterpiece with this aggressive hard rock ending?’ Well, then, I primarily was into folk/acoustic guitar music and hardly listened to hard rock, except perhaps Deep Purple, though I don’t exactly remember whether I had already “discovered” them.

Anyway, in my case, Zep definitely was an acquired taste, including Led Zeppelin IV. Initially, I would mostly listen to Stairway, in part to play along with my acoustic guitar, and stop the tune as it transitioned to the hard rock part. But soon I did not only start to “accept” the hard rock ending, but came to realize how absolutely brilliant the tune’s build and transformation is. I also noticed that the other songs on the album weren’t “so bad after all!”Today, Led Zeppelin IV is one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands.

While Stairway to Heaven is the most obvious song that comes to mind when thinking about Led Zeppelin IV, there is a lot of great additional music on this album. It all starts with the opener, Black Dog, which was also released as the record’s first single in December 1971. The song features one of the coolest riffs in rock, which I was surprised to read was credited to John Paul Jones, not Jimmy Page. The single’s B-side, Misty Mountain Hop, also has a great riff. In this case, it was Page who came up with it.

Another standout on the album is The Battle of Evermore. Written by Page, this folk tune nicely illustrates that Zeppelin was more than just a terrific hard rock band (of course, Stairway shows that as well). The song, which has a mystic feel to it, features acoustic guitar and mandolin, and Robert Plant singing duet with Sandy Denny. Denny, an English singer/songwriter, was best known as the singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention.

In addition to the many great songs on this album, I also like to highlight John Bonham and his drum-playing. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a drum expert, if I would ever start taking up the drums, which I actually have considered, Bonham would definitely be one of my idols. And once I would reach an appropriate level, I would try to learn the drums part for Stairway – I imagine a steep climb! Apart from the great guitar parts, I’ve always admired Bonham’s drumming on the song.

And what better way to finish this post than with Stairway. Here is a terrific clip of Zep’s performance of the iconic song at Madison Square Garden in July 1973. It’s taken from The Song Remains the Same, the concert documentary released in October 1976.

 

 

In Memoriam of David Bowie

Some thoughts on David Bowie who passed away today one year ago.

It’s hard to believe it’s been already one year since David Bowie passed away. He died from liver cancer in New York only two days after his 69th birthday, when he also released Blackstar, his 25th and last studio album.

I believe the first Bowie song I ever heard was Space Oddity on the radio. I must have been 12 at the time and in the process of getting into music. The title song of his second studio album remains one my favorite Bowie tunes to this day.

As Billboard reported, Bowie was obsessed with space. In addition to Space Oddity, he recorded other space-themed songs, such as Starman, Life on Mars? and Ashes to Ashes, the continuation of Major Tom’s saga.

And then there was of course Ziggy Stardust, the extraterrestrial rock star and alter-ego Bowie created in early 1972. His related fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is the best Bowie album, in my opinion. It includes an amazing amount of classics like Soul LoveStarman, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.

Another vivid experience I connect with Bowie during my teenage years was the 1981 German movie Christiane F., in which he had a cameo appearance. The soundtrack consisted of Bowie songs that were mostly taken from the “Berlin Trilogy”, the three consecutive studio albums Bowie produced while living in West Berlin during the second half of the 70s: Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979).

Released in 1981, the film is based on a true story of a young teenage girl in Berlin, Christiane F, who got into drugs, became a full-blown heroin addict, got into prostitution and almost died from an overdose. The plot has eerie parallels to the opioid crisis that’s ravaging the U.S. these days. The musical highlight of the movie is Heroes, which in the soundtrack version combines English with German lyrics – the only time I know of that Bowie sang in German.

Apart from the above songs, other Bowie tunes I like include The Man Who Sold the World (title song of album with the same name, 1970), Changes (Hunk Dory, 1971), The Jean Genie (Aladdin Sane, 1973), Rebel Rebel (Diamond Dogs, 1974), Wild Is the Wind (Station to Station, 1976), DJ (Lodger, 1979),  Let’s Dance (title song of album with the same name, 1983), Blue Jean (Tonight, 1984) and Absolute Beginners (from the rock musical film with the same name, 1986).

Over the next few weeks, prominent Bowie collaborators will perform a series of commemorating concerts. Events are scheduled in New York tonight, Los Angles (Jan 25), Sydney (Jan 29) and Tokyo (Feb 2). The first such show took place in London on Sunday (Jan 8), which would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday. Uncut Magazine did a story on the event, illustrated with a few clips, including a performance of Let’s Dance by Duran Duran’s Simon Le BonSting will headline the LA concert.