Are you ready to take another imaginary desert island trip? Ready or not, here we go. Continuing to explore my streaming music library in an alphabetical fashion, the next letter is “e”. My pick is a group I can’t believe I had not covered in a dedicated post after more than six years of writing this blog: Earth, Wind & Fire – unlike Eagles, Steve Earle and Melissa Etheridge, to name some others I could have selected.
I seem to vaguely remember that it was my dear brother-in-law who first introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire. And my song choice Fantasy was either the very first tune or was among the first tracks I heard by the group. I loved Fantasy from the get-go both because of the great vocals, especially Phillip Bailey, and the funky yet smooth groove, and I still do.
Fantasy was co-written by Earth, Wind & Fire founder and leader Maurice White and founding member, bassist and his half-brother Verdine White, along with Argentinian composer and pianist Eddie del Barrio. The tune was included on Earth, Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album All ‘n All from November 1977. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in January 1978.
While I would consider Fantasy to be one of the group’s best-known songs, I was surprised to see this catchy tune only reached no. 32 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100; it did better on the R&B chart where it climbed to no. 12. Fantasy did best in The Netherlands and Sweden where it got to no. 7 and no. 8, respectively.
Here are some additional insights from Songfacts: Earth, Wind & Fire made a smooth transition into the disco era, adapting their R&B sound to the new groove. “Fantasy,” written by group members Maurice and Verdine White along with the keyboard player/composer Eddie del Barrio, fit right in at Studio 54, but also had a deeper meaning, which was typical of Maurice White’s productions: he would put a message on top of an infectious beat. [While Fantasy is a great dance tune, it’s not disco, in my view – CMM]
Talking about the message in this song, Maurice told Melody Maker: “The song ‘Fantasy’ is motivated about escapism in the sense of living on a world that is untrue, a world that is unjust, a world that is very selfish and envious, there is a place that everyone can escape to which is their own fantasy. I had to write the song in the sense of sharing this place with people. It’s an escape mechanism.”
“Fantasy” is a showcase for EWF singer Phillip Bailey, who could handle the very high vocal range. The day he recorded his vocal, he got elbowed in the mouth playing basketball, so he did it that night with a loose tooth and busted lip.
Following Bob Dylan’s journey, German singer-songwriter revisits important chapters his own life and career
After coincidentally learning that prominent German singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was about to release a new solo album featuring English and Kölsch (a German dialect spoken in West Germany’s Cologne region) interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, I wasn’t planning to explore it. While BAP (Niedeckens BAP since September 2014), the band he founded in Cologne in 1976, has been my favorite German-singing rock group since the early ’80s, I haven’t paid much attention to Niedecken’s solo work. Still, curiosity prompted me to check out Dylanreise (Dylan journey), which dropped last Friday, March 25. To my pleasant surprise, I find Niedecken’s sixth solo album quite engaging.
Of course, I realize for non-German readers and more specifically for folks who don’t understand the Kölsch dialect, Wolfgang Niedecken is likely going to be a challenging proposition. I’m not sure whether liking Dylan’s music helps a great deal; in fact, I could see the opposite since Niedecken sounds very different from Dylan, no matter in which language he sings the maestro’s songs. The renditions are fine, but what I find most intriguing about Dylanreise are the anecdotes Niedecken shares throughout the album. In fact, it’s really more a narrated audiobook than a traditional music album.
As reported by German entertainment outlet Kulturnews, Dylanreise’s origin goes back to 2017 when Wolfgang Niedecken starred in the 5-part docu-series Bob Dylans Amerika (Bob Dylan’s America) produced for French-German cultural TV channel ARTE. In this docu-series, Niedecken traveled to the U.S. to trace key places in Dylan’s life, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Dylan had performed in August 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, or Big Pink, a house in the Woodstock, N.Y. area where the so-called basement tapes sessions had taken place in the summer of 1967.
In turn, the TV series inspired Niedecken to write a book, Wolfgang Niedecken über Bob Dylan (Wolfgang Niedecken about Bob Dylan), which appeared in March 2021. Two months earlier, the German version of the audiobook of Bob Dylan’s 2016 autobiography Chronicles had come out, narrated by Niedecken. Last but not least, Niedecken teamed up with his friend and jazz pianist, Mike Herting, for a series of concerts in German-speaking countries, billed as Niedecken liesst und singt Dylan (Niedecken reads and sings Dylan). The tour has had 40-plus shows to date and is still going on.
So what’s behind Niedecken’s obvious infatuation with Robert Zimmerman? “To me, he’s the greatest among the American songwriters,” Niedecken said in the above ARTE docu-series. “No other musician has given me a deeper insight into America’s soul, and no one else knows how to express Americans’ troubles and hopes. To many, he’s the polar star, guiding the way. Undoubtedly, without him, I wouldn’t have become a musician, and many of my songs probably wouldn’t have materialized without Dylan’s work.”
In a recent interview with regional German radio channel SR3, Niedecken framed his new album as follows: “It’s actually three journeys…The journey through my life, the journey through Dylan’s life and the 2017 journey throughout the U.S. And the tour, btw – four journeys [laughs].” Dylanreise’s 32 tracks feature 16, mostly Dylan songs and 16 narrated anecdotes, which translate into a total running time of two hours and 14 minutes. That’s pretty heavy, but I found it a worthwhile listening experience. Niedecken is a decent narrator.
Throughout his entire career, in addition to his own tunes, Niedecken has performed Dylan songs. In fact, before founding BAP in 1976, he had gained some local popularity in Cologne as “Bob Dylan of the South Town.” Typically, his versions were performed in the Kölsch dialect, something he continued with BAP. On Dylanreise, there’s a mix of all-English, all-Kölsch and mixed English-Kölsch renditions. The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of five all-English versions. It’s the title track of Dylan’s third studio album from January 1964.
“I used to play bass in a student band since I adored Paul McCartney,” Niedecken told SR3 during the above interview. “The vocalist of our band needed to pass high school graduation. So he showed up to his final gig…and brought along the single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. He had also already written down the lyrics. And we listened to it and this was something quite different (from The Beatles)…And suddenly, it was like lightning had struck. What the hell is he writing about? What do all these words mean? And all these metaphors, ‘Napoleon in rags’…All I knew is that was something I found much more exciting than playing bass and singing harmless lyrics. That same night, I told my friend Heiden, ‘ Heiden, you know what, you have to play bass now. I’m going to sing and write lyrics, just like the dude with the sunglasses.”
From Niedecken’s website: When we got to Woodstock as part of our Dylan journey, among others, we paid a visit to “Big Pink” in the forests of West-Saugerties. A nondescript wooden house painted in pick where rock & roll history was written when Dylan and his band [The Band – CMM] recorded countless demos there in 1967, some of which subsequently appeared under the title “Basement Tapes”. There I met with guitarist and vocalist Happy Traum, who four years later had assisted Dylan to re-record “Goin Nowhere” for his second greatest hits album, to record this song for our documentary. Here’s Du Jehs Nirjendwo Hin (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere), a song Dylan wrote in Woodstock in 1967, which first appeared on the aforementioned compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II
Before wrapping up this review with another rendition of a Dylan song, I’d like to recap one of my favorite anecdotes Niedecken tells: his eye-to-eye encounter with the maestro. In April 2009, on behalf of German guitar maker Duisenberg, Niedecken was invited to hand Dylan a lap steel he had ordered from the company. After a show in the German city of Saarbruecken, Niedecken was brought backstage and told to wait for Dylan there, all by himself. Finally, Dylan showed up, all by himself as well. He approached Niedecken smiling and with one fist raised.
“‘What’s that supposed to mean?,’ I was asking myself before realizing at the last second it evidently was meant to be a ghetto fist,” Niedecken recalls. “Apparently, I had not been the only person who had shaken his hand too firmly when Wim Wenders [the film director – CMM] who had known Dylan from the ’70s introduced me to him, and obviously I had grabbed his hand a little bit too firmly, leading him to wince…When I mentioned Wim’s name, he was like, ‘yeah, sure.’ And then the time had already come to hand over the guitar.”
“I can no longer remember what he was saying. I only recall how fascinated he was when removing the instrument from the case and looking at it from all sides. Like a small boy who finds an engine underneath the Christmas tree for his toy train – a moving moment I didn’t want to ruin under any circumstances with an unnecessary question or any sentence he presumably had heard a million times. Sure, I’d like to let him know he has significantly impacted my life and thank him for that. But, as I said, I would have ruined this moment and it wasn’t worth it. Eventually, he told me he had a small guitar amp on his tour bus where he would hook up the instrument right away. That same night they would travel to Paris. As such, he would have enough time to spend with the lap steel. Okay, one last ghetto fist, ‘thanks, take care,’ and that was it.”
Here’s Fuer Immer Jung (Forever Young). Recorded in 1973, the tune first appeared in two versions (one slow, one fast) on Dylan’s 14th studio album Planet Waves from January 1974.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Hard to believe it’s Sunday again, and we’ve reached the second weekend in spring. In typical tri-state (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut) fashion, we’ve had some wild temperature swings, and for tomorrow, the weatherman has forecast a whooping daytime high of 35 F – keeping fingers crossed they’re wrong like most of the time! Meanwhile, let’s keep the weather behind us and embark on another journey celebrating the music of the past and the present with six tunes.
I’d like to start today’s trip with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana, one of the first guitarists I admired after I had started to pick up the guitar as a 12 or 13-year-old. Santana’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from July 1971, which spans the band’s first three albums, was one of the vinyl records my six-year-older sister had at the time. While I’m most familiar with the band’s classic period and it remains my favorite Santana music, I’ve also come to like some of their other work. Bella, co-written by Sterling Crew (keyboards, synthesizer), Carlos Santana (guitar) and Chester D. Thompson (keyboards), is from a solo album by Carlos, titled Blues for Salvador. Released in October 1987, the record is dedicated to his son Salvador Santana, who was born in May 1983 and is one of three children he had with his first wife Deborah King. Salvador Santana is a music artist as well, who has been active since 1999 when he collaborated with his father on composing El Farol, a Grammy-winning track from Santana’s hugely successful Supernatural album that came out in June that year.
Steely Dan/Home at Last
Last night, I saw an outstanding tribute band to Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli. I’ve covered Good Stuff on previous occasions, for example here. After having felt skittish about going to concerts for the longest time, I’ve recently resumed some activities. It felt so good to enjoy some top-notch live music! As such, I guess it’s not a surprise that Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are on my mind. While they have written many great songs, the one album I keep coming back to is Aja, a true masterpiece released in September 1977. Here’s Home at Last. That’s kind of how I felt last night!
The Chambers Brothers/Time Has Come Today
All righty, boys and girls, the time has come to go back to the ’60s and step on the gas a little with some psychedelic soul – coz, why not? The inspiration for this next pick came from a playlist titled 60s Rock Anthems, which I saw on Spotify. Regardless of whether you consider Time Has Come Today by American psychedelic soul group The Chambers Brothers a “rock anthem,” I think it’s a pretty cool tune. The title track of their debut album from November 1967 became the group’s biggest hit single, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The trippy song was co-written by brothers Willie Chambers (vocals, guitar) and Joseph Chambers (guitar), who made up the band together with their brothers Lester Chambers (harmonica) and George Chambers (bass), along with Brian Keenan (drums). Since the studio cut came in at 11 minutes, they edited it down to 2:37 minutes for the original single. Subsequently, there were also 3:05 and 4:45-minute single versions. Since we don’t do things half-ass here, of course, I present you with the full dose – sounds like a tasty stew of early Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix!
The Style Council/Shout to the Top
After the previous 11-minute psychedelic soul tour de force, I thought something more upbeat would be in order. The other day, I remembered and earmarked British outfit The Style Council. Formed in late 1982 by singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Weller (formerly with punk rock band The Jam) and keyboarder Mick Talbot (formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners, among others), The Style Council became part of a wave of British pop outfits that embraced blue-eyed soul and jazz. Others that come to mind are Simply Red, Matt Bianco and Everything But The Girl. Shout to the Top, written by Weller, was the group’s seventh single that came out in October 1984. It was included on the band’s sophomore album Our Favourite Shop from June 1985 and part of the soundtrack of the American romantic drama picture Vision Quest released in February of the same year. Warning, the catchy tune might get stuck in your brain!
Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May
Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and some beautiful Neil Young-style Americana rock. Blue Rodeo are a relatively recent “discovery.” The first time I featured the Canadian country rock band, who has been around since 1984, was in early December 2021. Borrowing from this post, they were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. Co-written by Keelor and Cuddy, 5 Days in May is from Blue Rodeo’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, first released in Canada in October 1993. It only appeared in the U.S. in September of the following year. The band has since released 16 additional studio albums. I reviewed their most recent one, Many a Mile, here.
Foo Fighters/Medicine At Midnight
Once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our musical mini-excursion. Late on Friday sad news broke that Taylor Hawkins, who had been the drummer of Foo Fighters since 1997, passed away at the age of 50. The tragic event happened just before the band was scheduled to play a gig in Bogota, Colombia as part of their South America tour. The cause of death is still under investigation but may have been heart-related. I generally don’t follow the Foos and as such know next to nothing about their music. But I think Dave Grohl is a pretty cool dude, and I sympathize with what must be a difficult loss to him and his bandmates, the Hawkins family and Foo fans. An APstory quoted Grohl from his 2021 book The Storyteller: “Upon first meeting, our bond was immediate, and we grew closer with every day, every song, every note that we ever played together…We are absolutely meant to be, and I am grateful that we found each other in this lifetime.” Here’s the title track from Foo Fighters’ tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight released in February 2021. Like all other tracks on the record, it’s credited to the entire band.
Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to the latest installment of my new music revue. As still oftentimes happens, even after having done this weekly feature for about two years, all of my picks represent artists who are entirely new to me. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (March 25).
Camp Cope/Running With the Hurricane
Kicking things off are Aussie alternative rock trio Camp Cope from Melbourne. Formed in 2015, the all-female group includes singer-songwriter and guitarist Georgia “Georgia Maq” McDonald, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich (bass) and Sarah “Thomo” Thompson (drums). Apple Music characterizes Camp Cope’s music as “an angst-ridden sound sitting somewhere between confessional folk-punk and lo-fi pop-punk.” The trio released their eponymous debut album in April 2016. Their sophomore effort How to Socialise & Make Friends from March 2018 marked their breakthrough in the land from down under, reaching no. 6 on the domestic charts. Camp Cope have also toured the U.S. and Europe, which included a headlining tour of North America in 2019. Running With the Hurricane, credited to the entire band, is the pleasant title track of their third and latest album.
Wallows are an alternative rock band based in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Musicprofile: Wallows’ synth-spiked, sun-soaked indie rock captures an aching nostalgia for romances come and gone, and all the innocence lost in between. It’s a sound inspired by the Los Angeles-based trio’s own evolution: The members have experienced many of their growing pains together, after all. As preteens, singers/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters met drummer Cole Preston in Santa Clarita, California, and founded Feaver (who played 2011’s Warped Tour), which became The Narwhals and eventually Wallows in 2017. The group’s debut studio album Nothing Happens yielded the single Are You Bored Yet?, which peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’sAlternative Airplay chart. Missing Out, written by Tevin Toriano Walls, is a track from Tell Me That It’s Over, the second and new full-length record by Wallows.
The Wilder Blue/Feelin’ the Miles
There were many country releases this week, including the eponymous sophomore album by Texas five-piece The Wilder Blue. According to their website, the band features Zane Williams (lead vocals), Paul Eason (lead guitar), Andy Rogers (multi-instrumentalist), Sean Rodriguez (bass) and Lyndon Hughes (drums). It sounds like the band came together in 2019. Their debut album Hill Country appeared in May 2020. Here’s Feelin’ the Miles, a nice laid-back track written by Williams.
Jensen McRae/Take It Easy
Jensen McRae is a singer-songwriter originally hailing from Santa Monica, Calif. McRae who is of Black and white Jewish descent has been singing since her childhood and began taking piano lessons as a 7-year-old. She also plays guitar. Her early influences included Carole King, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. McRae who has been compared to folks artists like Tracy Chapman has described her music as “folk-alternative-pop”. Her debut EP Who Hurt You? came out in June 2021. On March 22, McRae released her first full-length album Are You Happy Now? Here’s Take It Easy, which like all other songs on the record was solely written by McRae. I’m really impressed with this young lady who sometimes reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell. Check out Wolves, which is included in the below Spotify playlist.
Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Wilder Blue website; YouTube; Spotify
Today 50 years ago, Deep Purple released Machine Head. The British band’s sixth studio record remains my favorite hard rock album to this day, so celebrating this gem with a post was a no-brainer to me. Remarkably, Machine Head almost wasn’t meant to be.
Deep Purple had decided they wanted to record an album outside the confines of a traditional studio, hoping they could generate a sound that mirrored their live performances. After some research, the Montreux Casino on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland had been identified as a suitable venue, and the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio had been hired for the project.
The day before the recording sessions were supposed to start, Deep Purple decided to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for a matinée performance at the very same venue. But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground, as was later captured in the lyrics of one of the most epic hard rock songs I can think of, Smoke On the Water, which is safe to assume also is the nightmare for anybody working in a guitar store selling electrics!
“We were sitting in this kind of bar/restaurant, which was overlooking the lake, Lake Geneva, and about maybe a quarter of a mile from the casino, which had really taken the flames, two, three hundred feet in the air,” Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillansaid during an interview with In the Studio with Redbeard, recorded in 2017 on the occasion of the album’s 45th anniversary. “…And the wind was coming off down the mountains and blowing the flames and the smoke across the lake. And the smoke was just like a stage show, it was hanging on the water. I never forget Roger [bassist Roger Glover – CMM] grabbed a napkin and wrote down on this napkin ‘smoke on the water.'”
With their original recording venue destroyed, Deep Purple had to find a new location to make the album. With the help of Claude Nobbs, founder and general manager of the Montreux Jazz Festival, who had become friends with the band, they found the Pavilion, a theatre in Montreux close to the casino. Unfortunately, there was no soundproofing, and after recording just one track, the police showed up and stopped the proceedings. Deep Purple had just lost another venue.
But Nobbs was determined to help the group and found the Grand Hotel, which was closed down for the season. It was located just outside of the sleepy resort town. With The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio parked at the main entrance, Deep Purple set up at the end of one of the corridors off the main lobby – yes, one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time was actually recorded in a hotel corridor! According to Wikipedia, An assortment of equipment and sound-insulating mattresses were installed, which meant the band had to walk through bedrooms and across balconies to get to the recording van. This proved so arduous that Deep Purple stopped listening to playbacks of their recordings, instead performing until they were satisfied.
“It [the hotel] was cold, there was no heating on,” recalled Roger Glover who joined Ian Gillan for the above interview. “But it had a ground floor corridor that was made of marble, and it was high ceilings – yeah, we could do this…We got an industrial heater in, a big kind of cylinder thing, and it was the roadies’ job to get to the place a couple of hours before we would do to start and turn this thing on to heat the room up – the room, the corridor!”
“The whole thing was recorded under dire circumstances,” Glover went on. “It was very cold and we were in this corridor. It’s beyond belief, actually, the desperation with which we were trying to finish this record.” And finish they did and, boy, what a record it tuned out to be. I’d say it’s time to revisit some of the goodies!
Opening side one is Highway Star, an outright danger if you find yourself in a car behind the wheel while listening to this tune. Like all other tracks on Machine Head, it was credited to the entire band, who in addition to Gillan and Glover also included Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards, Hammond organ) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion) – what a killer line-up! Citing Glover, Songfacts notes the band wrote “Highway Star” on their tour bus on the way to a gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall (in the UK) on September 13, 1971, where they debuted the song. They wrote it because they were getting sick of their opening number, “Speed King;” [which I love as well, BTW – CMM]. “Highway Star” became their opener from that point on. The song evolved through live performances.
Perhaps one of the tunes that may not come to mind first when thinking about Machine Head is Pictures of Home. It’s not as famous as the opener or the above-mentioned Smoke on the Water, but it’s one hell of a tune with a great guitar riff and a cool bass solo. And that drum intro by Ian Paice is pretty neat as well. The man who remains with Deep Purple to this day as their only constant member is a true force of nature.
Closing out side one is Never Before, another deeper track I love. Interestingly, it became the album’s lead single on March 21, 1972, appearing four days ahead of the record.
And we’re on to side two. I guess any review celebrating Machine Head cannot ignore one of the most famous songs in hard rock history. And it’s based on a simple, yet brilliant guitar riff. As noted above, Smoke on the Water recalls the big fire at the Montreux Casino and the making of the album. “The riff and backing track had been recorded on the first day as a kind of soundcheck,” Gillan explained during an interview with Songfacts in August 2020. “There were no lyrics. The engineer told us on the last day, ‘Man, we’re several minutes short for an album.’ So, we dug it out, and Roger and I wrote a biographical account of the making of the record: ‘We all came out to Montreux…'”
Let’s do one more: Lazy, an incredible track that starts with one of the best Hammond intros by Jon Lord I can think of. Before Ian Gillan gets to sing the first word at around 4:20 minutes, Lord and Ritchie Blackmore are taking turns playing uptempo blues-oriented riffs on the guitar and Hammond, respectively. With its improvisational nature and groove, this brilliant track crosses over to jazz. Gillan also throws in a cool harmonica solo.
Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify:
Machine Head became Deep Purple’s most commercially successful album. Only eight months after its release, it achieved Gold status in the U.S. (100,000 sold units, as certified by RIAA). As of October 1986, that total had exceeded two million copies and as such the album was certified 2X Multi-Platinum. The record also achieved Gold status in the UK, Italy and Japan, as well as 2X Gold status in France.
The album topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany and The Netherlands, climbed to no. 3 in Norway and reached no. 4 in Austria, Italy and Sweden. And where does this leave the U.S.? No. 7. By comparison, the album’s four singles showed a rather lackluster chart performance. According to Wikipedia, Highway Star didn’t chart at all, which I find hard to believe. The most successful single was Smoke on the Water, which reached no. 4 in the U.S. and no. 2 in Canada. However, it missed the charts in the UK!
Eduardo Rivadavia in his review for AllMusic called Machine Head “the Holy Trinity of English hard rock and heavy metal,” together with Led Zeppelin’sLed Zeppelin IV and Paranoid by Black Sabbath, “serving as the fundamental blueprints followed by virtually every heavy rock & roll band since the early ’70s.” Usually, I don’t care much about critics except when I agree with them! 🙂
Sources: Wikipedia; In the Studio with Redbeard; Songfacts; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify
Once again it’s time for tough decisions, decisions. The letter “d” in my music library revealed artists I’ve featured repeatedly here like Roger Daltrey, Dion, Deep Purple, Dire Straits and The Doors, to name some. And then there’s Donovan who by comparison I’ve covered less, so Donovan Phillips Leitch shall be the chosen one for my weekly desert island exercise.
While I can’t claim to be a Donovan expert, I can safely say I know more than two songs by the Scottish singer-songwriter, so I actually had to make a true decision which one to pick. If memory serves me right, Colours and Universal Soldier were the first two Donovan tunes I encountered. At the time, I was actively playing acoustic guitar and taking lessons. Especially Colours with its three chords was easy to learn, even if you didn’t have the skill set of a Jose Feliciano or Paul Simon – and I didn’t, not even at my best!
Back to the task at hand, which is answering the existential question, if I had to move to a desert island and could only take one Donovan song, which one would I pick? I decided to go with Sunshine Superman. I’ve always loved how this tune combines folk, blues and psychedelic music. It also turned out there’s a back story behind the song I had not been aware of.
Donovan wrote Sunshine Superman in response to the break-up with Linda Lawrence at the end of 1965. After the couple had dated for a short time, Lawrence, the former girlfriend of Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones, ended the relationship, not wanting to repeat getting the attention of being a music artist’s girlfriend.
Sunshine Superman first appeared as a single in July 1966, leading up to Donovan’s third studio album with the same title, which was released the following month, except for the UK. The tune became his first big hit and his only song to top the Billhoard Hot 100 in the U.S. Due to a contractual dispute, the single didn’t appear in the the UK until December 1966. The album was pushed back as well until September that year. Sunshine Superman (the single) still did pretty well, climbing to no. 8 of the Offical Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman also proved to be popular in Australia (no. 4), The Netherlands (no. 2) and Germany (no. 7).
Following is how Donovan played Sunshine Superman in January 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. This is taken from a DVD, Donovan: Live in L.A. at the Kodak Theatre, which appeared in January 2008. It’s a more funky version – not bad!
What else is there to say? Let’s take a look at Songfacts:
It’s not a normal love song, the singer told Mojo magazine June 2011. “On the face of it, the song is about being with Linda again. But sunshine is a nickname for acid. The Superman is the person capable of entering higher states because it’s not easy to go into the fourth dimension and see the matrix of the universe in which everything is connected. The line, ‘everybody’s hustling’ referred to the pop scene at the time, where you could lose yourself very easily. Gyp (Mills – Donovan’s lifelong friend and tour manager) would always keep my feet on the ground; we had left home at 16 to busk so we could see fame for what it is.”
Donovan was good friends with The Beatles, and they were both making very innovative and trippy music at the time. Donovan’s producer Mickie Most told him not to play the Sunshine Superman album to Paul McCartney under any circumstances, because he knew McCartney would be tempted to do something similar.
Donovan recalled to Uncut magazine: “My arse was being sued by Pye after Sunshine Superman so, my masterwork, sat on the shelves for seven months. If you date it, it was at least a year and a half before Sgt Pepper and I remember Mickie saying to me, ‘Don’t play it to McCartney’ but of course everybody was sharing with everyone else and nicking from each other.”
“I played it to McCartney anyway,” he continued. “But they were already there, anyway, and George Martin was doing something similar with The Beatles, working out arrangements from ideas they had in their heads. George Martin was The Beatles’ guy and John Cameron was my guy and they both had an appreciation of jazz which was key.” Originally, the “Sunshine Superman” single was subtitled “For John And Paul,” a reference to Lennon and McCartney.
A few additional tidbits:
A busy session guitarist called Jimmy Page played lead guitar on the recording of Sunshine Superman.
Sunshine Superman is considered to be among the first overtly psychedelic pop songs.
Apparently, the tune made The Beatles’video for A Day in the Life, in which it supposedly can be seen to spin on a turntable. Of course, the nerd in me had to check it out. While there is very brief footage of a spinning record around the 4:00 minute mark, frankly, I find it impossible to name it. Perhaps you need to be on a controlled substance to see it! 🙂
The trippy clip also features other music artists like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. At around 38 seconds, there’s a guy on the left side, who could be Donovan, though I’m not sure – again, a mind-enhancing pill might help! 🙂
The story behind Sunshine Superman had a happy end. In October 1970, Linda Lawrence became Donovan’s wife, and they remain together to this day. How many other music artists can you name, who have been married for 50-plus years?
Donovan, now 75 years old, is still active and maintains a website, where you can listen to his most recent single Gimme Some of That, which came out in October 2021.
This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.
A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test
The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists
This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.
At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland Ballroom, The Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.
The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.
During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’sBat Out of Hell.
So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.
Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)
Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)
David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)
Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)
Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)
John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)
Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)
Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)
Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)
Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?
Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)
Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)
U2/In God’s Country (1987)
This post was originally published on July 1, 2017.The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter – well, it actually wasn’t that bad, at least here in lovely Central New Jersey, but the line from George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun was the first thing that came to mind in connection with spring, which officially started today! With that being said, let’s get to the first spring edition of The Sunday Six.
Tangerine Dream/Underwater Twilight
Today’s trip starts with a soothing instrumental by German electronic music stalwarts Tangerine Dream. This track was part of a “chill mix” playlist my streaming music provider served up the other day. Founded as a five-piece in 1967 by Edgar Froese, the group has seen numerous line-up changes over its long and still ongoing history. Wikipedia notes their best-known line-up was a trio, which in addition to Froese (keyboards, guitars) included Christopher Franke (keyboards, drums) and Peter Baumann (keyboards). Spanning the years 1971-1975, that line-up’s albums included Alpha Centauri (March 1971), Zeit (August 1972), Atem (March 1973), Phaedra (November 1973) and Rubycon (March 1975). To get to Underwater Twilight, a track from Tangerine Dream’s 16th studio album Underwater Sunlight, we need to jump forward 11 years to August 1986. By that time, Froese and Franke were joined by Paul Haslinger (synthesizer, grand piano, guitar). Froese remained with Tangerine Dream until his death in January 2015. The group’s current line-up has no original members. The only connection to the past remains Froese’s widow Bianca Froese-Acquaye who acts as the group’s manager.
Grant Lee Buffalo/Rock of Ages
Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and Grant Lee Buffalo, a rock band from Los Angeles, who initially were active between 1991 and 1999. Their members included Grant-Lee Phillips (vocals, guitar), Paul Kimble (bass) and Joey Peters (drums). All of the group’s four studio albums came out during that period. After they disbanded in early 1999, Phillips launched a solo career. In late 2010 and early 2011, Grant Lee Buffalo briefly came back together for a reunion tour. Rock of Ages, penned by Phillips, is a great track from the group’s sophomore album Mighty Joe Moon, released in September 1994. Its vibe reminds me a bit of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I’m completely new to this group and dig what I’ve heard so far. I’d welcome listening tips any of you may have.
For this tune, we’re gonna step on the gas and go back to October 1979 and the sophomore album by Joe Jackson, aptly titled I’m the Man. The record, which I received as a present for my 14th birthday in 1980, was my introduction to the British artist. Initially, he gained popularity with post-punk and new wave before embracing a jazz-oriented pop sound. With Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive from June 1981, he also did an all-out jump blues and swing record. His most recent album Fool, which I reviewed here, appeared in January 2019. It’s quite compelling! Back to I’m the Man and Friday, which was penned by Jackson. One of his ingredients is excellent bassist Graham Maby, who continues to play with Jackson to this day. Check out Maby’s pulsating bassline – so good! I should also acknowledge Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums, vocals), which rounded out Jackson’s band at the time – the best backing group he has had, in my view.
The Association/Never My Love
After three tunes into our journey, it’s high time to visit my favorite decade the ’60s. And, boy, do I have a sunshine pop goodie that has California written all over it. The Association have been active since 1965, except for a short one-year break-up from 1978 to 1979. Their heyday was in the ’60s where they had a series of top 10 hits. The group also opened the Monterey International Pop Festival that took place June 16-18, 1967. Never My Love, co-written by American siblings Don Addrisi and Dick Addrisi, is among The Association’s biggest hits, climbing to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Canadian charts. The tune first appeared on the band’s third album Insight Out from June 1967, before being released as a single in August that year. The Association are still around. As one can imagine, they have had numerous line-up changes, and if I see this correctly, only guitarist and vocalist Jules Alexander remains as an original member. Check out that beautiful harmony singing – gives me goosebumps!
Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers/Vinyl
A few days ago, I featured The Boneshakers in a post dedicated to blues and blues rock. This cool group was formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists, after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Since 2015, The Boneshakers have repeatedly worked with American saxophonist and vocalist Mindi Abair. This lady is one firecracker. Check out Vinyl, the opener of an album titled The EastWest Sessions that came out in September 2017. Love the funky groove and the soulfulness of this tune!
The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring
As we’re once again reaching the final destination of our six-tune music time travel, I thought it would make sense to end this post where it started – spring! I give you Can’t Stop the Spring by psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, which I found through a search of my streaming provider’s music library. Somehow that title sounded familiar, so I searched my own blog, which sadly I’ve done more than once to see whether I already covered an artist or song. And, full disclosure, I previously included the tune in a post from March 2021 titled Here Comes the Spring. There’s nothing wrong to repeat a song, even if it’s what I like to call weirdly catchy. As I noted at the time, Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!!…, released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Another Saturday calls for another Best of What’s New. This latest installment of my weekly music revue is coming together at the last minute, and it’s got six instead of the usual four picks, so let’s get to it right away. Unless noted otherwise, all featured tunes were released yesterday (March 18).
The Dream Syndicate/Where I’ll Stand
Starting us off today are The Dream Syndicate, an alternative rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 1981. Their Apple Musicprofile calls them one of the most celebrated bands to come out of the Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” scene of the ’80s, adding, A hit on the college rock circuit, they never made it through to the mainstream. Until the group’s break-up in 1989, they released four studio albums. Since the band’s reunion in 2012, four additional albums have appeared, the first of which only came out in 2017. The Dream Syndicate’s current line-up includes original member Steve Wynn (lead vocals, guitar), along with Jason Victor (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Walton (bass) and Dennis Duck (drums). Where I’ll Stand, released on March 8 and written by Wynn, is the lead single of the band’s upcoming studio album Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions, scheduled for June 10.
Midlake are a folk rock group from Denton, Texas, who have been around since 1999. According to their Apple Musicprofile, the band was formed by a group of musicians who had attended the North Texas School of Music. They were signed to Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label in the U.K., leading to European concerts and their first full-length album, 2004’s Bamnan and Slivercork. For their next LP, Midlake changed gears and moved away from the psychedelic leanings of their debut toward a more ’70s-influenced sound. Released in 2006, The Trials of Van Occupanther was a critical success, resulting in bigger sales and an enhanced reputation for subsequent recordings like 2010’s The Courage of Others. A key lineup change followed in 2012 when frontman Tim Smith departed and long-time guitarist Eric Pulido stepped into his place on lead vocals. 2013’s Antiphon was their first record without Smith. Fast-forward to Midlake’s new album For the Sake of Bethel Woods, which appeared after an extended hiatus and is their first since the aforementioned Antiphon. Here’s Bethel Woods, credited to all of the band’s current members who in addition to Pulido include Jesse Chandler, Joey McClellan, McKenzie Smith and Eric Nichelson.
Oso Oso/Father Tracy
Oso Oso are a rock band from Long Beach, N.Y. around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jade Lilitri (Jonathan Dimitri), the group’s only permanent member. Here’s more from Apple Music: Originally Oso Oso was solely the work of Lilitri, who wrote and released an EP, 2014’s Osoosooso, and an album, 2015’s Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Look Like Monsters…, through Soft Speak Records. Wanting to embark on more ambitious tours, Lilitri enlisted a full band to join him, including the addition of Aaron Wims on drums. Subsequently, the band took part in the recording of The Yunahon Mixtape in 2017 and sophomore full-length album Basking in the Glow in 2019, the latter of which saw release through Triple Crown Records. This brings me to Sore Thumb, Oso Oso’s fourth and latest album. Here’s Father Tracy, which like all other tunes was written or co-written by Dimitri.
Hailey Whitters is a country artist who originally hails from Shueyville, Iowa. Here’s more from her website: On her 2020 breakthrough album The Dream, the singer-songwriter wrote about escaping her hometown of Shueyville, Iowa, to pursue stardom in Nashville. It was a fantasy record at first, full of far-off plans, hopes, and dreams. But it soon became Hailey’s reality — she signed a label deal with Big Loud/Songs & Daughters, went on tour with Luke Combs and Midland, and made her first of many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry...In the midst of that whirlwind, Hailey found herself reconnecting with her Midwestern roots. Shueyville was always in the back of her mind and the memories she made there — getting her first kiss; partying in the cornfields; gathering for Sunday supper — started to shape her writing. Over the past two years, she channeled those memories into her new album, Raised. Following is the title track.
Mavis Staples & Levon Helm/You Got to Move
I trust R&B and gospel vocalist Mavis Staples, who initially became known in the 1950s as a member of gospel, soul and R&B family group The Staple Singers, doesn’t need much of an introduction. Fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talkfeatured her the other day as part of her ongoing Women Music March 2022 series. As reported by Pitchfork, on March 15, Staples announced a forthcoming live album that was recorded in 2011 with Levon Helm, former drummer and vocalist of The Band. Captured at Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Carry Me Home is among the final recordings by Helm who passed away from throat cancer in April 2012 at the age of 71. The announcement of the album, which is slated for May 20, coincided with the release of a great single, You Got to Move. Staples, now 82, remains active and has a busy touring schedule ahead of her throughout the entire year. What an amazing lady! And check out that great clip with Helm.
Neil Young & The Restless/Cocaine Eyes
I leave you with another goodie by “an old hand.” Neil Young has announced a new box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Continuing the chronological re-releasing of his official releases, remastered where analog tapes exist, the decade-spanning box set includes Hawks & Doves (1980), Re•ac•tor (1981), This Note’s for You (1988) and the Eldorado EP (1989), a 5 track mini-album, previously only released on CD in Australia and Japan. The EP features two tracks not available on any other album and different versions of three songs that appeared on the Freedom album. Here’s one of the two tracks, Cocaine Eyes, a classic blistering grungy Neil Young rocker.
Following is a Spotify playlist of the above tunes and a few others sans Neil Young who recently pulled his music from the platform.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Hailey Whitters website; Pitchfork, Mavis Staples website; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube; Spotify
The third installment of my weekly desert island exercise brings me to the letter “c.” Some of the artists and bands I could have selected include J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sheryl Crow. My pick are The Cranberries and Linger, a song I find exceptionally beautiful. The melody, the musical arrangement and the lyrics are all coming together perfectly.
Linger first appeared in February 1993 as the second upfront single of the Irish alternative rock band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? That album was released two weeks thereafter in March.
The Cranberries’ second single became one of their biggest hits. In addition peaking at no. 3 in their native Ireland, it reached no. 4 in Canada, no. 8 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and no. 14 in the UK, among others. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 24 weeks.
A beautiful great acoustic version of Linger was included on the band’s seventh studio album Something Else, released in April 2017. The record featured unplugged and orchestral renditions of 10 previously released singles, along with three new songs. Sadly, it would be the final album with Dolores O’Riordan who passed away on January 15, 2018, at the age of 46 years. The cause of death was determined as drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.
Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan wrote the music for this song before Dolores O’Riordan joined the band. Originally, it had lyrics written by the group’s first singer, a bloke named Niall Quinn. When O’Riordan auditioned for the band, she had some ideas for the song, and after she was hired, she wrote her own set of lyrics, turning it into a song of regret based on a soldier she once fell in love with.
The emotional, girlie sound was a huge departure for the band, but wildly successful. The song got lots of airplay from radio stations looking for an alternative to rap or grunge, and MTV put the video in heavy rotation [So did VH1 where I saw it repeatedly during my first semester as a student on Long Island, N.Y. – CMM]. The Cranberries became one of the best-selling bands of the mid-’90s.
In a Songfacts interview with Dolores O’Riordan, she described this as “a love song.” In the lyric, she describes being mistreated by her love and seeing him with another girl, yet unable to break free because he lets their relationship linger. This hardly seems the stuff of dreams, but the feeling of first love is what O’Riordan keyed in on. It brought her back to a time of innocence.
The Cranberries recorded the first version of this song in 1990 at their manager’s studio in Limerick, Ireland. It was one of three songs included on a demo they distributed to local records stores, which found their way to various record companies. Island Records signed the band, which released their first EP, Uncertain, in 1991. “Linger” was not part of that EP, as they wanted to save the song for when they built a bigger fan base.