My Playlist: John Lennon

I’m introducing a new feature to the blog with the ingenious name “My Playlist.” Why? Coz I write the bloody blog, so I can!ūüėÄ

On a more serious note, there are many different ways how to enjoy music. Apart from listening to entire albums, I like creating playlists for my favorite artists. Oftentimes, they include tracks from multiple records and span their entire recording career. Typically, it’s a combination of popular tunes and deeper cuts. That’s really the basic idea behind what I envisage is going to become a recurrent feature.

First up: John Lennon, one of my biggest music heroes!

John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Following his marriage to Yoko Ono in March 1969, Lennon quietly left The Beatles in September. Around the same time, he and Ono were contacted by the promoters of the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, and hastily put together a band to perform there. The result was the first incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band, which in addition to Lennon (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Ono (vocals) included Eric Clapton (lead guitar, backing vocals), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums). Their performance at the festival was captured on the album Live Peace Toronto 1969, which appeared in December 1969.

After the official breakup of The Beatles in April 1970, Lennon recorded his first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and released it in December that year. Until his death in December 1980, six other solo records followed: Imagine (1971), Some Time In New York City (1972), Mind Games (1973), Walls And Bridges (1974), Rock ‘N’ Roll (1975) and Double Fantasy (1980). Milk And Honey (1984) was recorded during the final months of his life and appeared postmortem. Let’s get to some music!

Cold Turkey (Single 1969)

Cold Turkey was Lennon’s second solo single released in October 1969. Written by him and credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the tune was recorded right in the wake of their appearance at the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, where it had been performed in public for the first time. In fact, the song had been so new that Lennon hadn’t memorized the lyrics yet, so Ono held up the words on a cheat sheet! Unlike Live Peace Toronto 1969, Ringo Starr played the drums on the studio recording. In addition, Ono’s wailing sounds were absent – frankly, something I don’t miss in particular.

Instant Karma! (Single 1970)

Instant Karma! was the third Lennon tune that appeared as a non-album single credited to the Plastic Ono Band. Peaking at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Single Charts, respectively, it became the first solo single by a former Beatles member to sell one million copies in America. In addition to Lennon, Ono, Voorman and White, it featured George Harrison (guitar, piano, backing vocals), Billy Preston (Hammond organ, backing vocals) and Mal Evans (chimes, handclaps, backing vocals).

Mother (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970)

Mother is the opener of Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which came out in December 1970. The painful cry to his parents, who abandoned him as a child, is one of the most powerful tunes he wrote. The relative sparse instrumentation of just piano, drums and bass, combined with Lennon’s screaming voice, still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to the song.

Jealous Guy (Imagine 1971)

Jealous Guy¬†first appeared on Lennon’s second studio album Imagine released in September 1971 in the U.S. While that record is best known for its beautiful and timeless title track, which became the top-selling single of his solo career, to me Jealous Guy is an equal. Interestingly, it didn’t come out as a single until November 1985, four and a half years after Roxy Music had scored a no. 1 hit with their great cover.

New York City (Some Time In New York City 1972)

To me, Lennon was one of the greatest rock & roll singers. I just love this original tune from¬†Some Time In New York City, his third solo album from June 1972, credited to John & Yoko, Plastic Ono Band and American rock band¬†Elephant’s Memory, best known for backing Lennon and Ono in early ’70s. The autobiographic track is both an anthem to the city, which had become Lennon’s and Ono’s home in September 1971, and a middle finger to the Nixon Administration. Concerned about their political activism, President Nixon was looking for ways to kick Lennon and Ono out of the country. Instead, he turned out to be a crook and was forced to resign. Maybe another Lennon would come in handy these days!

Mind Games (Mind Games 1973)

Mind Games is the title track and lead single of Lennon’s fourth solo album from October 1973. According to Wikipedia, he started work on the song in 1969, which originally was titled Make Love, Not War. Lennon finished the tune after he had read the 1972 book Mind Games: The Guide To Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston. The track was recorded around the time Lennon separated from Ono and with her encouragement had an 18-month relationship with May Pang. Let’s just leave it at that!

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Walls And Bridges 1974)

Included on Lennon’s fifth solo album Wall And Bridges from September 1974, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night also was the record’s first single. It became his first no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, a chart success that was only achieved one more time with (Just Like) Starting Over from the Double Fantasy album in the wake of his death. The above clip shows Lennon joining Elton John live at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November 1974, his last major concert appearance. While the quality of the video is poor, not including it would have been a great miss. John¬†also played piano and provided harmony vocals on the studio version.

Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’ (Rock ‘N’ Roll 1975)

As previously noted, I’ve always thought Lennon was great at singing rock & roll. He also loved the genre, and this record is an homage. The medley of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me and Send Me Some Lovin’, co-written by John Marascalso and Leo Price for Little Richard, is one of my favorites on the album. Rock ‘N’ Roll was Lennon’s last studio release prior to his five-year family hiatus, following his reunification with Ono and the birth of their son Sean.

Watching The Wheels (Double Fantasy 1980)

Watching The Wheels is from Double Fantasy, which came out in November 1980 – the first studio album after Lennon had reemerged from secluded family life. Credited to him and Ono, it is sadly the last release that appeared during his life time. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1981, following Lennon’s death in New York City on December 8, 1980. While the song couldn’t match the chart success of the album’s first two singles (Just Like) Starting Over and Woman, I like it just as much.

Borrowed Time (Milk And Honey 1984)

I’ve always dug the cool groove of this tune from Borrowed Time, Lennon’s last studio album that appeared postmortem in January 1984. According to Wikipedia, the song was inspired by a frightening sailing trip through rough seas from Newport, R.I. to Bermuda in 1980. After pretty much everybody else on board had become incapacitated due to sea sickness, Lennon who wasn’t impacted ended up taking the yacht’s wheel for many hours by himself.¬†It’s crazy if you think about it – the man survived what clearly were much lower odds than being shot to death by some nutcase!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Jimi Hendrix/Mannish Boy

The above version of Mannish Boy is from an upcoming Jimi Hendrix album called Both Sides Of The Sky, which will appear on March 9. I love the uptempo and funky take of the blues classic credited to Muddy Waters, Mel London and Bo Diddley.

The cool thing is Both Sides Of The Sky is not some ordinary sampler but a compilation of previously unreleased material from Hendrix’s vaults. According to a Rolling Stone story, since the mid-nineties, Hendrix’s key recording engineer Eddie Kramer has worked with the guitar wizard’s estate to unearth previously unreleased tracks.

In addition to Mannish Boy, the 13 studio tracks Hendrix recorded between 1968 and 1970 include intriguing collaborations with Johnny Winter, Stephen Stills and Lonnie Youngblood. This album is the third and last in a trilogy of such unearthed gems. The previous two are Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell and Angeles (2013).

Based on how great Mannish Boy sounds, it appears Kramer who was a recording engineer for every Jimi Hendrix album during the guitarist’s lifetime did an outstanding job. He co-produced the new record with John McDermott and Janie Hendrix,¬†Jimi’s sister who also heads Experience Hendrix, the company that manages the estate. Looking forward to that one!

Sources: Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube

Bad Company Live At Red Rocks

English rock supergroup’s 2016 live album becomes more broadly available

Paul Rodgers is one of my favorite male rock vocalists. So I was intrigued when a live album from Bad Company popped up under “New Releases” in my Apple Music last week. It turns out that while Live At Red Rocks¬†appeared on iTunes and I assume other online/streaming platforms on January 12, it first went on sale exclusively at Wal-Mart last September.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the CD/DVD set captures a May 15 show during the band’s 2016 U.S. tour with Joe Walsh at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre close to Denver. A concert review in the Denver Post noted that¬†Walsh opened the night backed by a 10-piece band, telling the audience, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll get you sweaty and Bad Company will finish you off.‚ÄĚ This must have been one hell of a show!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Col.

Rochester, N.Y. classic rock radio station WCMF 96.5 FM noted that while co-founder and ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs is credited on the recording, he was no longer part of the band’s lineup due to health issues. Rich Robinson of The Black Crows stood in for him. Also on guitar was touring musician Howard Leese, formerly with Heart, who has played with the Paul Rodgers Band and Bad Company since 2008. According to Wikipedia, the band’s current lineup also includes Simon Kirke (drums), another co-founding member who played with Rodgers in¬†Free; and Todd Ronning (bass).

Time to get to some music. Feel Like Makin’ Love is one of Bad Company’s best known songs. Co-written by Rodgers and Ralphs, the tune is included on the band’s second studio album Straight Shooter, which appeared in April 1975. It was also released separately as a single in August that year. Here’s a fairly decent video clip.

Burnin’ Sky is the title track from the band’s fourth studio record from March 1977. It was written by Rodgers and also came out separately as the album’s second single.

Seagull is one of the acoustic tracks of the set. Another Rodgers/Ralphs co-write, it is the closer to Bad Company’s eponymous studio album, which appeared in June 1974. During this live performance, Kirke joined Rodgers, Leese and Robinson on acoustic guitar and threw in a nice solo. Here’s a great video clip.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,¬†another Bad Company classic, is from Desolation Angels, the band’s fifth studio album released in March 1979. The tune, which was written by Rodgers, also was the record’s lead single.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Bad Company, the title track of the band’s eponymous debut record. Co-written by Rodgers and Kirke, the song also became the album’s third single. Here’s a great video clip.

Rodgers’ website currently lists four dates for 2018. One solo show is coming up this Saturday, January 20 in Bensalem, Pa. The remaining dates are Bad Company gigs: two in Florida in mid-February, and one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at the end of April. The last show sounds like an attractive proposition to me, especially with an outside temperature of 19F as I’m writing this!

Sources: Ultimate Classic Rock, Denver Post, WCMF 96.5 FM, Paul Rodgers website, Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Cranberries/Zombie

This is kind of crazy. Yesterday, I listened to Zombie by The Cranberries and thought I should take a closer look at this Irish alternative rock band for a post. Today, I’m finding myself writing this piece after the incredible news that lead vocalist Dolores O’Riordan suddenly passed away at age 46. I think her distinct way of singing and intense delivery make this song one of the most memorable tunes of the ’90s.

According to Rolling Stone, O’Riordan had been in London for a short recording session. The cause of her death hasn’t been revealed. Apparently, she struggled with some health issues that forced the band to cancel shows last year. The Rolling Stone story also noted a diagnosis with bipolar disease in 2014.

Zombie was the lead single to The Cranberries’ second studio album No Need To Argue, which appeared in October 1994.¬†Written by O’Riordan in 1993 to commemorate two children who were killed during an IRA bombing in England earlier that year, Zombie was the band’s biggest hit. It reached no. 1 in Australia, France, Germany and various other countries. In their native Ireland, it peaked at no. 3, while in the UK, it climbed to no. 14. In the U.S., the tune didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it entered various other Billboard charts, most notably Alternative Songs, which it topped.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

“Steely Don” Turns 70 And Is Feeling Great

Donald Fagen has no intention to retire anytime soon

I’m a huge Steely Dan fan. If anything, last year brought them closer to me than ever before and not just because of the untimely death of Walter Becker. I also attended a couple of shows of an excellent Steely Dan tribute band called Royal Scam. On Wednesday, Donald Fagen turned 70, so doing a post on the man felt right.¬†Since I previously covered Steely Dan including their history here, I’d like to primarily focus on Fagen’s solo music.

But first a bit of history. Donald Jay Fagen was born in Passaic, N.J. on January 10, 1948. He grew up in South Brunswick, N.J. According to Wikipedia, he didn’t like the suburban setting, feeling it was trapping him like a prison. These sentiments and Fagen’s love of late-night radio were inspirations for his first solo album The Nightfly.

It’s fair to say Fagen’s life changed forever when he met Becker in 1967 when they were both students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.

Donald Fagan & Walter Becker

The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops. Becker was playing the bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later.

Steely Dan‚Äôs first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included¬†Jeff ‚ÄúSkunk‚ÄĚ Baxter¬†(guitar),¬†Jim Hodder¬†(drums) and¬†David Palmer¬†(vocals).¬†Earlier,¬†Gary Katz, a staff producer at¬†ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

Between 1972 and 1980, Steely Dan released seven studio albums: Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972), Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980). While I dig all of these records, to me the gem is Aja, which I previously covered here.

Following Steely Dan’s breakup in June 1981, Fagen started to work on his solo debut The Nightfly. Released in October 1982, this record remains the highlight of his solo catalog to date, in my opinion. It included various production¬†staff and musicians who had been involved in Steely Dan records, for example producer Katz, bassist Anthony Jackson and lead guitarist Larry Carlton,¬†something Fagen would continue on his future solo efforts. The¬†opener I.G.Y., which according to Wikipedia stands for International Geophysical Year, “an international¬†scientific project promoting collaboration among the world’s scientists.”

While it took Fagen 12 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad in May 1993, he kept busy on other fronts, contributing to soundtracks and writing a column for Premiere magazine. He also worked together with Becker and Katz on Zazu, the 1986 debut album by American model and singer-songwriter Rosie Vela. In the early ’90s, he toured with The New York Rock and Soul Revue, a musical project directed by Fagen’s future wife Libby Titus. In addition to Becker, it included other prominent musicians, such as Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and blues singer Charles Brown.

Kamakiriad was produced by Becker. Revolving around the concept of a journey in a high-tech car, the album illustrates Fagen’s attraction to futuristic themes, similar to I.G.Y. Though oftentimes, one cannot be sure whether he means things seriously or is being ironic. Following the release, he reunited with Becker for a tour to support the album. While the record received a Grammy nomination and peaked at no. 10 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and at no. 3 on the UK Albums Chart, its commercial performance was poor. That’s a pity, since it’s actually a pretty good album. Here’s the opener Trans-Island Skyway – just love the groove of this tune!

Following his reunification with Becker, Fagen co-produced Becker’s 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks Of Whack. He also played keyboards on the album. In 2000, Fagen and Becker released Two Against Nature, their first studio album as Steely Dan in two decades. The follow-up Everything Must Go appeared in June 2003. It was Steely Dan’s last studio album.

In March 2006, Fagen released his third solo record Morph The Cat, in which Becker had no involvement. The record was generally well received and won a Grammy Award For Best Surround Sound Album. Here’s a clip of H Gang. The guitar work and the tenor sax solo by Steely Dan’s Jon Herrington and Walt Weiskopf, respectively absolutely shine.

Following the appearance of Morph The Cat, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. In June 2008, Becker’s second studio album Circus Money came out. Sunken Condos, Fagen’s fourth and most recent studio record, was released in October 2012. Another well-received album, Sunken Condos peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard 200. Here’s what’s probably my favorite tune from that album, Weather In My Head. Love the blues groove of that tune!

During an in-depth interview with Rolling Stone’s podcast Music Now¬†last month, Fagen confirmed he wants to continue touring as long as possible. He added, “It keeps you young, for sure, touring. I noticed when I’m off, I don’t feel as good as when I’m on. I got to be either recording or touring. I especially enjoy live performing more than I used to. We have a fantastic band. I got a couple of fantastic bands. It’s just so much fun to be with these guys and to play.”

One of these bands is called The Nightflyers, four young musicians Fagen has worked with over the past few years. They are¬†Connor Kennedy¬†(guitar, vocals),¬†Lee Falco¬†(drums, vocals),¬†Brandon Morrison¬†(bass, vocals) and¬†Will Bryant¬†(keyboards, vocals). Here’s a clip of them performing the title track of¬†The Nightfly¬†album, captured during a concert in Cincinnati last year.

Last Saturday, Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers announced a co-headlining 37-gig North American 2018 summer tour. It’s scheduled to kick off in Charlotte, N.C. on May 10 and conclude on July 14 in Bethel, N.Y. One of the shows (July 6) is right in my backyard at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Steely Dan and imaging them without Becker is still hard. The Doobies, which I also really dig, have had many changes in their lineup since their heyday in the ’70s. Still, I’m very tempted!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Steely Dan website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Billy Idol/Rebel Yell (Unplugged)

Even you don’t like Billy Idol or don’t think Rebel Yell is a particularly compelling tune, if you’re into rock music, how can you not dig the above unplugged version?

The clip was captured during Idol’s performance on the VH1¬†Storytellers series in April 2001. Regardless of whether you play guitar or not, it’s not difficult to figure out that Idol’s longtime ace guitarist Steve Stevens is absolutely killing it with just an acoustic guitar. Frankly, it doesn’t feel like anything is missing – no drums, no bass and no keyboards needed, not mention a second guitar!

Co-written by Idol and Stevens, Rebel Yell is the title track of Idol’s November 1983 studio album, his second. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single in October that year. Upon its initial release, it was only moderately successful, reaching no. 62 on the UK Singles Chart, while peaking at no. 46 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. However, a 1985 re-issue made it all the way to no. 6 on the UK chart.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real/ The Visitor

Not ready to fade away, Young is still feisty after more than five decades

Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?

So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street¬†during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.

Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s¬†red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”

Neil Young & Promise Of The Real

Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up¬†The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning,¬†I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!

The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.

As I started listening to the acoustic¬†Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.

Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.

Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!

And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called¬†Diggin’ A Hole.

The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.

Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album¬†Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are¬†Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.

Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago:¬†My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube