Leaving On a Jet Plane

Christian’s Music Musings is going on a short hiatus

Happy Thursday! I’m about to embark on a long-planned and previously postponed trip to Germany to finally see some family and friends there after more than 2.5 years. Instead of going nuts with pre-writing and scheduling posts, I’ve decided to take a short hiatus.

My plan is to resume blogging on August 13. In the meantime, I’ll probably keep an occasional eye on posts from fellow bloggers. You may also see my two cents here and there.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading the blog and commenting on posts. Not only do I feel I learn a lot about music in the process, but I also enjoy the engagement.

For now, I’m leaving you with a Spotify playlist of songs that are related to travel and holidays, at least in a broader sense. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, and I decided to have some fun with it and take some liberties. But unlike the lyrics of the first tune, I know I’ll be back again. See y’all then! 🙂

Sources: Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Velvet Underground

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song challenge. Before I can head out to the imaginary island in the sun, I need to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly feature, there are a few additional rules that guide my picks. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the song selections in alphabetical order. This means the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter, which this week is “v”.

Frankly, even after doing a bit of research, I only found a handful of bands and music artists whose names start with “v”: Van Halen; Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven; Vangelis and The Velvet Underground. Of course, there’s also the great former Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but I’m not aware of any solo music that appeared under his name.

Applying my criteria, it came down to Vangelis or The Velvet Underground. And my pick is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground. While I’ve only heard a handful of the band’s tunes and as such, it was a bit of a tricky decision, I’m quite happy with my choice!

Penned by Lou Reed, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter, Sunday Morning was the opener of their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which appeared in March 1967. It featured German vocalist Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on three tracks, at the insistence of their manager Andy Warhol who co-produced the album with Tom Wilson. Earlier in the ’60s, Wilson had produced three of Bob Dylan’s albums as well as the debut by Simon & Garfunkel.

The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 in New York City. By the time they recorded their above-mentioned debut, their line-up included co-founders Lou Reed (vocal, guitar, piano), John Cale (viola, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sterling Morrison (guitar, bass, backing vocals), along with Moe Tucker (drums) who had replaced the band’s original percussionist Angus MacLise in late 1965.

By the early 1970s, Doug Yule who had joined The Velvet Underground in 1968 to replace John Cale, was the group’s only remaining member. While there was one more album released under The Velvet Underground name (Squeeze, February 1973), essentially it was a Yule solo album he recorded together with a few backing musicians. Yule subsequently did some session and touring work for Lou Reed who had left the band in 1970 to launch a solo career.

In 1992, The Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour featuring Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker. But it was short-lived and a discussed U.S. tour didn’t materialize when Cale and Reed fell out again – the old story of egos in rock & roll! In August 1995, Morrison passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 53. Reed, Tucker and Cale reformed the group one last time in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed died from liver disease in October 2013. He was 71. In 2017, Cale and Tucker came together at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert for a performance of I’m Waiting for the Man, a tune from The Velvet Underground’s first album. They remain the only survivors of the group’s original line-up.

Following are some additional tidbits on Sunday Morning from Songfacts:

Lou Reed wrote this on a Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Andy Warhol, who helped finance the album, suggested he write a song about the paranoia associated with the effects of a drug wearing off.

Reed wrote this for Nico but then decided not to let the German ex-model sing it. Instead he impersonated her himself.

The production on this song is more lavish than the other tracks on the album. It was intended for release as a single and they wanted to make it radio friendly...

…This song is all about last-minute changes. The inclusion of the track on their first album was literally penciled in, Reed decided to take over vocals at the last minute as they walked into the studio to record it, and John Cale noticed a celesta in the studio and decided to include the instrument for the song on the spot. Cale also played the viola on the song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

At 79, Jagger still can’t get no satisfaction

Today, Mick Jagger turned 79 years. Admittedly, I almost missed it. To celebrate the happy occasion and hopefully many returns, I’m republishing a post I did for Jagger’s 75th birthday. I feel everything I said four years ago still applies!

No matter whether you like him or not (and I love him!!!), I think there’s no question Mick Jagger has to be one of the coolest rock artists on the planet. To me, he’s the embodiment of rock & roll in all of its crazy shapes. Unlike the other members of The Rolling Stones, Jagger doesn’t show many signs of aging. He still has the energy and swagger he did when the Stones started out in the early ’60s.

I also don’t believe I know of any other rock artist who studied at the London School of Economics, though evidently, Jagger figured out pretty quickly that Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes weren’t as sexy as rock & roll. And, dare I say it, there are many economists but there’s only one Mick Jagger!

Jagger’s biography has been told a million times, so I’m not going to write yet another iteration. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Sir Michael Philip Jagger’s 79th birthday, which is today, with what he’s all about: rock & roll.

Let’s kick it off with the first officially recorded song Jagger co-wrote with his longtime partner in crime Keith RichardsTell Me (You’re Coming Back), the only original track on the Stones’ eponymous U.K. album released in April 1964. While the tune’s early ’60s pop vibe doesn’t sound much like The Rolling Stones, I still find it charming.

Yes, it’s probably the most over-played song The Rolling Stones have ever released, but since it’s such a signature tune, how could I not include (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in this post? Plus, the song from the Stones’ third British studio album Out Of Our Heads really seems to be a perfect fit for Jagger.

She’s A Rainbow from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request may be an uncharacteristic tune by The Glimmer Twins, but I’ve always loved it.

I know many Stones fans consider Exile On Main Street or Some Girls as the band’s best studio album. If I would have to select one, I think it would be Sticky Fingers. Here’s Dead Flowers.

The song’s title sums it up perfectly: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It). It was the lead single to the Stones’ 1974 studio album It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, their 12th and 14th in the U.K. and U.S., respectively.

Here’s When The Whip Comes Down. According to Wikipedia, Jagger wrote the lyrics to the song, which first appeared on the Some Girls album from 1978, though it is credited to Jagger/Richards.

Tattoo You is considered by many folks to be the last decent album the Stones released in August 1981. The lead single was Start Me Up, which remains one of the band’s most recognizable tunes and a staple during their live concerts where they often play it as the opener. It’s a great tune and with its simple riff yet another example that less is oftentimes more in rock & roll.

I’ve always liked Steel Wheels, which the Stones released in August 1989. By that time Jagger and Richards had patched up their fragile relationship and wrote a great set of songs that are reminiscent of the Stones’ classic sound. Here’s Mixed Emotions.

To date, A Bigger Bang from September 2005 is the Stones’ most recent full studio album featuring original music. Here’s the opener Rough Justice.

I’d like to conclude this celebratory playlist with an amazing live clip: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from the Stones’ Sticky Fingers show on May 20, 2015 at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was captured in a great live album released last September as part of the band’s From The Vault series. To me, the Stones rarely sounded as fresh as they did that night!

Do Mick and the boys have enough gas for another album? In April, NME  reported that Jagger was working on new material ahead of the Stones’ U.K. tour. He’s quoted as saying, “I’m just writing. It is mostly for the Stones at the moment.” Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, happy birthday!

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

A Music Cover I Like

A “Turntable Talk” Contribution

This is another contribution for “Turntable Talk“, a feature hosted by fellow blogger Dave at A Sound Day.

When Dave recently reached out to introduce the new topic for this round of “Turntable Talk,” I didn’t hesitate one minute to participate again. Thanks, Dave, for having me back and your continued efforts to host this fun series!

When it comes to music, I think it’s fair to say we generally like to focus most of our attention on original tracks. That’s certainly the case for me. I always like to explore new songs, especially if they are written by an artist or a band I dig. But a good cover can also get my attention.

What’s a good cover? I think there’s no standard definition here. However, what it doesn’t mean, at least in my opinion, is that a cover has to be a faithful rendition of the original. In fact, one could argue what’s the point of covering a song when it exactly sounds like the original. As such, I tend to find it more intriguing when an artist or a band take some liberties and put their own spin on a song. In this case I prefer to use the term remake rather than cover.

There are some excellent remakes. My all-time favorite is Joe Cocker’s version of With a Little Help From My Friends. Two other terrific remakes that come to mind are Love Hurts by Nazareth and Proud Mary by Ike & Tina Turner. Not only did Cocker, Nazareth and Ike & Tina Turner make the respective songs their own, but they took them to the next level. I like all three renditions better than the originals!

In some cases, the original tunes are so great that tampering doesn’t make much sense. Two good examples I thought of are the covers of If I Needed Someone and Hard to Handle by Roger McGuinn and The Black Crows, respectively.

Yet another rendition I think is absolutely killer is Elton John’s version of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. To me, this falls somewhere in-between a straight cover and a remake. In any case, John did what I always wished The Who would have done – make this fantastic song longer instead of fading it out in a seemingly arbitrary fashion.

Finally, this brings me to my “bold cover” I’d like to select for this post. I deliberately wanted to go with a tune that looked like an unlikely pick by any of the other participants. In fact, it’s not even a remake of a rock tune but a jazz standard: Al Jarreau’s amazing rendition of Dave Brubeck classic Take Five.

In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it last or if you haven’t listened to it at all, here’s the original. Composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond, the track was first released by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in December 1959 on their album Time Out. This was one of the first jazz tunes I ever heard many moons ago. Even though I wasn’t into jazz at the time, I’ve always loved it!

And here’s where Al Jarreau took the tune on his December 1977 live album Look to the Rainbow: Live In Europe. When I heard his rendition for the first time, I was blown away. How Jarreau used his voice here as an instrument is just super cool. In fact, this type of rendition is called scat singing, which per Wikipedia is “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.”

Songfacts notes Take Five is one of the rare jazz tunes that became a hit. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 25 on the pop chart in October 1961. Elsewhere it did even better, especially in the UK (no. 6), Australia (no. 7), New Zealand (no. 8) and The Netherlands (no. 8). Take Five has also been used in movies, including Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Pleasantville (1998) and Constantine (2005). And it’s one of the most compelling remakes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Wikipedia

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – jeez, it only feels like yesterday since I put together the previous installment. For newbies to the blog, this weekly feature celebrates great music over the past six decades or so, six tunes at a time. I’d like to think of it as going on an imaginary time travel to visit music of different eras. Hope you join me for the ride!

Elmo Hope/It’s a Lovely Day Today

Today, our journey shall start in 1953 with some groovy music by American jazz pianist, composer and arranger Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1923, Hope started playing the piano as a 7-year-old. His recording career began in 1953 with an album that originally appeared as Elmo Hope Trio. It subsequently was packaged with his second record Elmo Hope Quintet, Volume 2, and released as Trio and Quintet in 1989. Tragically, Hope’s life was cut short in May 1967 when he passed away in New York City from heart failure, a few weeks after he had been hospitalized for pneumonia. During his active period, Hope recorded about 20 albums, counting both releases as a leader and as a sideman. Among others, he played with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. It’s a Lovely Day, composed by Irving Ball, is from Hope’s above-mentioned first album. He was backed by Percy Heath (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) – my kind of music to get me in the mood on a Sunday morning!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/Bad to the Bone

Our next stop is August 1982 to catch some b-b-b-b-b-b-bad music, a song that’s b-b-b-b-b-b-bad, bad to the bone – coz that’s how we roll here! It’s the title track of the fifth studio album by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Bad to the Bone. Thorogood began his career in the early ’70s as a solo acoustic performer in the style of Robert Johnson and Elmore James. In 1973, he formed the Delaware Destroyers, who subsequently dropped Delaware from their name. The group’s eponymous debut album appeared in October 1977. Thorogood has since released 14 additional studio albums with the group and one solo record. He remains active to this day and is currently on what looks like an extensive tour of Europe, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada, with dates booked all the way to May 2023. Catching a show with him should f-f-f-f-f-f-fun! Meanwhile, let’s enjoy this classic from August 1982!

James Brown/I Got You (I Feel Good)

It’s kind of tough to follow George Thorogood. Perhaps it does take who was known as “Mr. Dynamite” and the “hardest working man in show business”: Jaaaaaaaaames Brown! And we’re not stingy here. The year was 1965 and the month was October when James Brown released I Got You (I Feel Good) as a single. Initially, the tune had been recorded for his ninth studio album Out of Sight that came out in September 1964. But the song wasn’t included and the version that appeared as a single a year later was an alternate take. Penned by Brown, I Got You (I Feel Good) peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his highest-charting tune on the U.S. pop chart. It also became his third single to top the R&B chart after Try Me (October 1958) and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (June 1965). Man, all I can say is I would have loved to see James Brown live!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Swingin’

I trust Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time, needs no introduction. Not only did this man write so many great songs, but he also had a true appreciation of music by other artists. And with the Heartbreakers, he had a terrific band. These guys could simply play anything. If you haven’t listened to it, check out the terrific box set The Live Anthology and you’ll know what I mean. Let’s turn to Swingin’, a track from the 10th studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Titled Echo, it was released in April 1999. It didn’t enjoy the same chart and commercial success as Damn the Torpedoes (October 1979), Hard Promises (May 1981) and Into the Great Wide Open (July 1991), or his solo albums Full Moon Fever (April 1989) and Wildflowers (November 1994), for that matter. But Petty didn’t care much about chart success and sales anyway. It was always about the music. Swingin’, written solely by him, also became one of five singles from Echo. Sadly, we lost Tom Petty way too early in October 2017. He was only 66 years old!

The Guess Who/Dancin’ Fool

For our second-to-last stop on today’s journey let’s jump back to 1974 and a tune I had earmarked several weeks ago for a Sunday Six: Dancin’ Fool by The Guess Who. When I heard It was a Saturday night without a whole lot shakin’/Ooh my, ooh my, I was bored, I thought, ‘ooh my, ooh my, that would be a cool tune to feature!’ And here we are. Co-written by the Canadian rock band’s Burton Cummings (lead vocals, keyboards) and Domenic Troiano (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dancin’ Fool became the opener of The Guess Who’s 13th studio album Flavours. By that time, Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were the only remaining original members. The present version of the group, which no longer includes any founding members, is currently touring the U.S. It looks like that line-up also recorded the most recent Guess Who album When We Were Young, released in September 2018.

AC/DC/Play Ball

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six. Let’s make it count with what I feel is a late-career gem by epic Australian rockers AC/DC. I’ve written about them and their long and tragic history multiple times, for example here, so I’m not going to repeat myself in this post. Play Ball is the terrific opener of AC/DC’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. It was the band’s first album recorded without co-founding member and long-term rhythm guitarist and song co-writer Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire earlier that year due to dementia. He passed away from the disease in November 2017 at the age of 64. Notably, all tunes on the album were constructed largely by lead guitarist Angus Young from material he and his brother had worked on during the recording sessions of previous records. As such, Play Ball and all other songs on Rock or Bust are credited to Angus Young and Malcolm Young.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something there you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; George Thorogood website; The Guess Who website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Man, it’s been a hot week in my neck of the woods, with daytime highs close to 100 °F. Of course, I realize it’s pretty much been the same across the U.S. and much of Europe. So what’s happening on the new music front this week? I’m happy to report I found plenty that sufficiently grabbed my attention. All of my picks are on albums that appeared yesterday (July 22).

Ty Segall/Looking at You

Kicking things off is versatile American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and record producer Ty Segall. From his AllMusic bio: One of the leaders of the new psych-influenced garage rock scene that erupted in California in the late 2000s, Ty Segall has produced a catalog as prolific as it is diverse. Working as a solo act and in a number of side projects, he has released literally dozens of albums since he left the Epsilons [California garage rock revivalist band where he served as lead vocalist and gained initial acclaim – CMM] and cut his first project on his own in 2008. Depending on the album, Segall can sound raw (2016’s Emotional Mugger) or refined (2013’s Sleeper), and he’s capable of focused one-man-band efforts (2009’s Lemons) as well as sprawling and eclectic releases with a range of collaborators (2018’s Freedom’s Goblin). He proves just as compelling when stripping back the noise and adding synths, as on 2021’s Harmonizer, or composing film music (2022’s Whirlybird). This brings me to Looking at You, a tune from Segall’s latest, 14th studio album Hello, Hi. I like what I’m hearing here!

John Moreland/Ugly Faces

John Moreland is a Tusla, Okla.-based Americana-oriented singer-songwriter. Originally hailing from Longview, Texas, Moreland started playing guitar as a child with the help of his father and already had his first gig when he was 13 or 14. While still in high school, he played in local punk and hardcore bands. His recording debut, Endless Oklahoma Sky, occurred in 2008 with the Black Gold Band, a group he had formed in 2005. Moreland has since released eight additional studio albums, a mix of solo and group efforts. Ugly Faces is the opener of his new solo album Birds in the Ceiling. While I’m not a fan of drum machines and other electronic percussions that Moreland uses in some of the tunes I’ve heard, I still find his music pretty compelling.

Beach Bunny/Gone

I first featured Chicago indie pop rock group Beach Bunny in a January 2021 Best of What’s New installment. Founded in 2015, Beach Bunny started as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Lili Trifilio who released her debut EP  Animalism in 2015. Following the third EP Crybaby in 2017, Beach Bunny became a full-fledged four-piece group. In addition to Trifilio (vocals, guitar), their current lineup features Matt Henkels (guitar), Anthony Vaccaro (bass) and Jon Alvarado (drums). Beach Bunny’s first full-length studio album Honeymoon appeared in February 2020. Now they are back with their sophomore release Emotional Creature. Here’s Gone, which like most other tunes on the album is credited to all members of the group. The bouncy catchy music stands in contrast to the lyrics.

Jack White/A Tip From You to Me

Jack White is best known as the former lead vocalist and guitarist of The White Stripes, the rock duo he formed in 1997 with his then-wife Meg White (drums, vocals). In 2005, he also became a co-founder of rock group The Raconteurs. In addition, four years later, White co-founded The Dead Weather, a rock supergroup. The White Stripes came to an end in February 2011 after six albums. The Raconteurs went on hiatus in 2014 and became active again in 2018. White remains a member. The Dead Weather have been, well, I guess you could say dead since the release of their third album Dodge and Burn in September 2015. In addition to his band activity, White also found the time to launch a solo career. Since his debut Blunderbuss (April 2012), White has released four additional albums including his latest, Entering Heaven Alive. The more acoustic album comes only three months after his previous release, the rock-oriented Fear of the Dawn. Evidently, White is not only quite prolific but also pretty versatile. While I’m still entirely new to his solo work, I sure as heck know I like what I’ve heard thus far from his latest endeavor!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Dawes are a folk rock band from Los Angeles. They emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. The group consists of brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), as well as Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). AllMusic characterizes their music as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” To date, Dawes have released eight studio albums, including their latest project Misadventure of Doomscroller. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds very promising. Here’s a great sample, Ghost in the Machine, penned by Taylor Goldsmith.

Jenny Mitchell/If You Were a Bird

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with Jenny Mitchell, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand. From her website: Multi award winning, alt-country Aotearoa artist, Jenny Mitchell is a storyteller with songs wrapped in wisdom and wit. Her music defies easy categorisation but if you admire music by genre-defying artists from Emmylou Harris to Kasey Chambers and Jason Isbell, you are going to love Jenny Mitchell...Her 2018 record Wildfires, produced by Sydney’s Matt Fell, was awarded the 2019 Tui for Recorded Music NZ Best Country Music Artist and became the first NZ album to receive a nomination for Alt-Country Album of the Year at the 2020 Australian Golden Guitar Awards. This brings me to Tug of War, Mitchell’s third and latest album and the pretty If You Were a Bird.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Jenny Mitchell website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Utopia

Alrighty, it’s Wednesday and time again to prep for another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, in the context of this recurring feature, this means I need to pick another song to take with me – one bloody tune, not an album, though I’m not suggesting the latter would be much easier.

Plus, there are a few additional rules. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the silly exercise in alphabetical order.

This week I’m up to “u”. Artists (last name) and bands starting with that letter include U2, UFO, Ultravox, Umphrey’s McGee, Uncle Kracker, Uncle Tupelo, Utopia and Uriah Heep. Given my above rules, U2 and Uriah Heep are out. I also just recently wrote about Umphrey’s McGee. And since I don’t feel like dancing with tears in my eyes, Ultravox are out as well.

This still leaves me with four choices, none of which I’ve covered to date. And my pick is Utopia, aka Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Now that I’ve figured out the artist/band, the question is which song to pick? Love Is the Answer.

Written by Todd Rundgren, Love Is the Answer is a tune from Utopia’s third studio album Oops! Wrong Planet, released in September 1977. Initially, the pop-oriented song missed the charts. Two years later, American soft rock duo England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded a version of the tune and took it to no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. It also reached no. 10 on the mainstream pop chart Hot 100. Sounds very yachty!

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

Todd Rundgren wrote this hopeful song about the power of love for his band Utopia, which released it on their 1977 album Oops! Wrong Planet. The song became a hit in 1979 when England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded a slicker version perfect for the adult contemporary market, and scored their last of six US Top 40 hits with their cover.

In our 2015 interview with Todd Rundgren, he explained that Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet was a “bummer album,” and that they included this song on it to make it more uplifting. [Perhaps that made Rundgren want to bang the drum all day? CMM]

Todd Rundgren performed this song when he toured as part of Ringo Starr’s “All Starr Band” in 2015. Ringo insists on three hits from his guests, and along with “I Saw The Light” and “Bang the Drum All Day,” he wanted Todd to do “Hello It’s Me.” Rundgren didn’t think that one was a good fit in the set, as it’s a very introspective song and Ringo’s shows are very communal. Todd convinced him to go with “Love Is The Answer,” which he thought was the perfect song for Ringo – “Mr. Peace And Love” as Rundgren calls him. The plan worked: the song went over very well at these shows and fit the vibe perfectly.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jake Thistle/Down the Line

Young New Jersey singer-songwriter with incredible story looks like star in the making

As a music lover for 40-plus years, I enjoy coming across young talented artists. I also love a great story. New Jersey singer-songwriter Jake Thistle represents both. It’s safe to assume most of my readers haven’t heard of the recent high school graduate. My gut tells me this may change, and I’m not only referring to this post.

If I recall it correctly, I first came across Thistle about a year ago on Facebook where he’s pretty active and has amassed some 14,000 likes. The other day, I saw him at a free summer outdoor concert, performing a Jackson Browne show – a perfect fit, in my view, since he reminds me of Browne. During the gig, Thistle casually mentioned a CD. Before getting to that, I’d like to touch on his cool story.

The following is based on an interview the then 14-year-old Thistle gave to New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 four years ago. One month prior to his fourth birthday, he watched the 2008 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It turned out to be a life-changing moment for the little boy. I guess you could call it the equivalent of seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Jake Thistle at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Bitten by the Tom Petty bug, Thistle began watching videos of the man from Gainesville, Fla. on YouTube. The platform soon also suggested other similar artists and before long, the young boy became a classic rock fan. Listening to great music eventually turned into picking up the guitar at the age of nine; and starting to post his own videos on YouTube. And then something really incredible happened.

Tom Petty saw one of Thistle’s videos and sent him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Not only did Thistle get to see one of his music heroes, but he also met the man and the Heartbreakers backstage. It sounds like Mike Campbell was instrumental in all of this happening. Thistle told Q104.3 host Jim Kerr he does an annual fundraiser for Rock the Dogs, an animal charity co-founded by Campbell, who wanted to meet the young musician.

Thistle has also played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle and Tom Morello – not bad for a young cat who just graduated high school!

Jake Thistle with Steve Ferrone, former drummer of the Heartbreakers

This brings me to Down the Line, Thistle’s first CD that came out in June 2021. It was not what he initially had envisaged. “I’ve been wanting to get more original music out for a long time,” he explained in a Q&A on his website. “I had a deal in place with a major studio for a full, professionally-produced EP that I was going to record with some great musicians in the Spring, and I had some amazing offers to record at other studios with some of my heroes that I was looking forward to—then COVID happened, and those things had to be put on hold for now.”

But Thistle still wanted to put out some of his music, so he recorded the album at his home studio, using instruments he knew how to play himself. “I’ve never been one of those musicians who likes to sit in front of a computer—I like to play music— so I bought a new soundboard that allowed me to record and mix tracks right on the board…In addition to arranging and recording every instrument myself, I didn’t use any computer-based enhancements, instruments or sounds.”

After eight graphs into this post, I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s kick it off with the album’s opener and title track. When I listened to the tune for the first time, I was immediately struck by how mature Thistle sounds – certainly not your usual high school student. To be clear, I love when high school students get into music, so it’s not meant in a disparaging way. But just check out the remarkable songwriting and Thistle’s voice – so good!

In addition to the guitar, Thistle also managed to pick up the piano. Here’s a beautiful example: Frontier of Time. I could totally picture Jackson Browne playing this song. In fact, as I mentioned at the outset, if there’s any particular artist Thistle reminds me of it’s Browne. The slight occasional rasp in his voice is a bit reminiscent of Bryan Adams.

Another gem on the album is Lines On the Road. Check out the lyrics: Well I’m hypnotized by lines rushing by on the road/Measuring a time in song, feeling the highway below/I’m not worried about figuring out my life/No one ever seems to make it out alive/No I’m just seeing how long I can survive… This is mature singer-songwriter material. “The inspiration was from that sense of serenity and hope I’d get when taking long road trips, often for gigs in other states,” a then-16-year-old Thistle told American Songwriter in December 2020. “I’m a year away from being able to drive myself, so I have a lot of time to look out the window.”

Let’s do one more: Hometown, another neat piano-driven track. While it would be interesting to hear more produced renditions of the album’s 12 tunes, I actually find Thistle’s stripped-down approach pretty engaging. He certainly did a remarkable job leveraging the means he had to his full advantage. I couldn’t find a clip off the album, so here’s a live version from what looks like Thistle music cave at home. Some nice stuff hanging on the wall behind him, including what looks like a Rickenbacker 360/12.

So what’s next for Thistle? Apparently, he still has plans to record in the studio, which would be the logical next step. “Yes, the offers I had are still open, but we need to wait for the effects of the pandemic to get better,” he noted in the above Q&A. “I have a wide range of songs, and some I think would better for a full band with a studio. I write all the time, and I’m very much looking forward to getting in the studio for the next album even as I’m just releasing this one.”

I feel a full band and studio production would also allow Thistle to record some more uptempo rock-oriented songs a la Running On Empty, to stay with Jackson Browne. In the meantime, take a listen to Thistle’s CD below. It’s also available on Apple Music and on Amazon. Or you can purchase it for download on Thistle’s website here.

I think Jake Thistle is on an exciting path. There’s no question he’s both a very talented songwriter and a pretty solid musician. And, again, think about it: He’s only 18 and already so good! The remarkable relationships he has built with other music artists also look like great opportunities. My gut tells me we may well be looking at a classic singer-songwriter star in the making. I certainly look forward to hearing more music from him!

Sources: Jake Thistle website; Q104.3; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six zigzag journey to the beautiful world of music, six tunes at a time. While writing about music typically makes me a happy camper, I always particularly look forward to putting together another installment of this weekly feature. As long as I dig the track, these posts can include any type of music. Not being limited to a particular album or specific theme feels very liberating. Let’s do it!

Clifford Brown and Max Roach/Sandu

Today, I’d like to start our little trip in 1956. Clifford Brown was an American jazz trumpeter and composer, who during only four years of recording left an impressive legacy. Sadly, he passed away in a car accident at the age of 25 en route to Chicago for a gig, along with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy Powell who was at the wheel when their car went off the road for unknown reasons. Max Roach, a pioneer of bebop, is regarded as one of the most important drummers in history. In 1954, the two musicians formed a quintet and over the next few years recorded a series of albums. One of them was Study In Brown, which included the great Brown composition Sandu. In addition to Brown, Roach and Powell, at the time, the quintet featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone) and George Morrow (double bass). My kind of music for a Sunday morning to get in the mood…

Bruce Springsteen/Bobby Jean

I trust Herr Springsteen doesn’t need an introduction. While I’ve covered The Boss multiple times since I started penning this blog in June 2016, based on a quick search, apparently, this is only the second time I feature Bruuuuuuuuce in The Sunday Six. With so many songs Bruce Springsteen has written over nearly six decades, it’s hard to pick one. I decided to go back to June 1984 and the album that brought the New Jersey rocker on my radar screen: Born in the U.S.A. One of the tunes I’ve always loved and think would have made a good single is Bobby Jean. The story about a guy who wants to visit somebody important to him only to find out the person left is “a good song about youthful friendship”, according to Springsteen, as noted by Songfacts. Apparently, the tune was written as a farewell message to E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions decided to leave to focus on his solo career. Of course, Little Steven has been back since 1999 and is set to join Bruce and the band for a 2023 international tour. Man, it just feels so good hearing the great Clarence Clemons blowing that saxophone – nobody did it quite like the big man!

Otis Redding/(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sweet soul music. And when it comes to that genre, nowadays, my first preference tends to be Stax – you know, the real good stuff! The Memphis soul label is associated with so many great artists like Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and Kim Weston. And, of course, Otis Redding, who by the time (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released as a single on January 8, 1968, had become the label’s biggest star. Sadly, he wasn’t able to witness the huge success of the tune, which became his only no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard Hot 100. Only three days earlier, Redding had died in a plane crash at the age of 26. The song, co-written by him and Steve Cropper, the guitarist of Stax killer house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, also became the de facto title track of Redding’s seventh studio album The Dock of the Bay, which he had finished recording two days prior to his untimely death. And, yep, you guessed it correctly, the record also became Redding’s most successful on the Billboard 200. Life can be so unfair!

Dwight Twilley Band/I’m On Fire

Going from Otis Redding to the Dwight Twilley Band does seem to be a leap. Who’s Dwight Twilley anyway? But you see, to borrow from a famous Tom Hanks movie, I’d like to think of The Sunday Six like a box of chocolate: You never know what you’re going to get! BTW, had you asked me about Twilley a couple of weeks ago, I would have drawn a blank. Then Spotify served up I’m On Fire as a listening suggestion. While it perhaps didn’t set me on fire, I quite liked how this catchy tune rocks. If you don’t know it, you should give it try. It turned out I’m On Fire, first released as a single in April 1975, is one of two U.S. top 20 singles Twilley is best known for, according to Wikipedia. The other one is called Girls (1984). I’m On Fire, written by Twilley, was also included on Sincerely, his debut album released as Dwight Twilley Band. The “band” really was a duo and in addition to Twilley (guitar, piano, lead and harmony vocals) only included his music partner Phil Seymour (drums, bass, percussion, lead and harmony vocals). They released a second studio album in 1977. Each subsequently recorded solo albums. Seymour also sang backing vocals on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ tunes American Girl and Breakdown. Twilley still seems to be around. Sadly, Seymour passed away from lymphoma at age 41 in August 1993.

Sonny Landreth/Congo Square

Time for a stop-over in the ’90s before heading to our final destination. If you’re into guitar-driven blues chances are you’ve heard of Sonny Landreth. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to check out this slide guitarist from Louisiana, who has been active for nearly 50 years and released close to 20 albums under his name. Given his talent, it’s not surprising he’s played with the likes of John Hiatt, John Mayall, Mark Knopfler, Gov’t Mule and Little Feat. Congo Square, which Landreth wrote together with Roy Melton and David Ranson, is a tasty tune from his fourth studio album South of I-10. Released in February 1995, the record marked the first time Landreth collaborated with Knopfler who played guitar on Congo Square and two other tunes. Cool stuff!

Dirty Honey/The Wire

Let’s go out with a great rocker: Gypsy by Dirty Honey. If you’re a frequent reader of the blog, you may recall me raving about this contemporary rock band from L.A., founded in 2017. I just love their classic rock sound, which reminds me of groups like AerosmithLed Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. To date, they have released a self-titled EP and debut album, as well as a bunch of singles. The Wire, credited to the band, is from their first album that came out in April 2021. It was also released separately as the third single. Dirty Honey aren’t reinventing classic rock, but this is kick ass and I love it – and that’s good enough for me!

This post wouldn’t be complete without an accompanying Spotify playlist. Hope you’ll find something here you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New. While the first two tracks are included in releases that came out yesterday (July 15), the two remaining tunes are picks from upcoming albums. Let’s get to it.

Interpol/Renegade Hearts

Interpol are an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1997. Apple Music calls them a key player in the 2000s post-punk revival with a dark, atmospheric sound that’s influenced such successors as The Killers. Here’s a bit more from their profile: BBC Radio 1 host John Peel liked their demo and asked them to record a session for his show, leading to a deal with Matador Records. Interpol’s debut LP, 2002’s Turn On the Bright Lights, was named one of the top albums of the decade by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. In 2004, the band had their first Top 20 US hit, “Slow Hands”…Their major-label debut, 2007’s Our Love to Admire, was their biggest chart success, debuting in the Top 5 in both the US and the UK. The band’s current lineup includes co-founders Paul Banks (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass) and Daniel Kessler (lead guitar, piano, keyboards, backing vocals), as well as Sam Fogarino (drums, percussion). Renegade Hearts, credited to all three members, is a track from Interpol’s seventh and new studio album The Other Side of Make-Believe.

Zach Bryan/Oklahoma Smoke Show

Zach Bryan is a talented red dirt country singer-songwriter I featured in previous Best of What’s New installments here and here. Red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Two additional full-length studio albums have appeared since, including an ambitious 34-track triple album that just came out in May. Oklahoma Smoke Show is a song from Bryan’s latest release, Summertime Blues, an EP.

Marcus King/Blood On The Tracks

Marcus King is another great artist who I’m happy to say I covered on previous occasions here and here. From the 26-year-old’s website: GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, performer, and songwriter Marcus King was downright destined to play music. By eight-years-old, the fourth generation Greenville, SC native performed alongside pops, grandpa, and his uncles for the first time. Logging thousands of miles on the road as “The Marcus King Band,” he established himself with unparalleled performance prowess and a dynamic live show. During 2020, he linked up with Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] and cut his solo debut El Dorado, garnering a GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album.” In between packing venues on his own, he performed alongside Chris Stapleton, Greta Van Fleet, and Nathanial Rateliff in addition to gracing the bills of Stagecoach and more with one seismic show after the next. Along the way, he caught the attention of Rick Rubin and signed to American Recordings. Here’s Blood On The Tracks from King’s second solo album Young Blood, scheduled for August 26. His debut on American Recordings will be produced by Auerbach, who also co-wrote the tune with King and Desmond Child. Love this song and really looking forward to the album!

Julian Lennon/Breathe

I’d like to wrap up this week’s new music revue with an artist I thought essentially had retired from music. After all, Julian Lennon has become involved in many other endeavors over the past 20-plus years, including photography, publishing children’s books and producing film documentaries. His 1984 debut album Valotte was great. While I selfishly loved that the title track could have been a John Lennon ballad, I think it was smart for Julian to subsequently record songs that sounded different from his father. After his 1991 single Saltwater, his last more significant chart success, he kind of fell off my radar screen. On September 9, Julian Lennon will be back with Jude, his first new album in 11 years. The title is a nod to the legendary song ‘Hey Jude,’ by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney to comfort 5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation, according to an announcement on Lennon’s website. “Many of these songs have been in the works for several years, so it almost feels like a coming-of-age album,” said Lennon. With great respect for the overwhelming significance of the song written for me, the title JUDE conveys the very real journey of my life that these tracks represent.” Here’s Breathe co-written by Lennon and Peter-John Vettese.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Julian Lennon website; YouTube; Spotify