Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope you’re having a great day. Wednesday also means it’s time again for taking a closer look at a particular song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. My pick for today is Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, a great singer-songwriter I had known by name for many years but only started to explore about 18 months ago.

While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille.

Train to Birmingham, penned by Hiatt, is what I would call a deep cut from a studio album titled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which Hiatt released in August 2011. Unlike many of his other records, this one fared better in the charts, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and climbing to no. 59 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it peaked at no. 17 in Sweden, no. 20 in The Netherlands and no. 61 in Germany, among others. The tune was never released as a single.

Train to Birmingham was covered by American country music artist Kevin Welch on his sophomore album Western Beat, released in April 1992 as Kevin Welch @nd The Overtones. Good rendition!

Following are some additional tidbits on Train to Birmingham from Songfacts:

American folk-rock singer-songwriter John Hiatt wrote this song in his late teens, but it didn’t make it onto a disc until his 2011 album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. He explained why he finally decided to record the track in an interview with American Songwriter: “You know what, my wife really loves the song. And she’s been asking me to record it for years, and it kind of seemed right on this record. We were doing all of these songs about cities and different locations and going from the city and the country and back and forth. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year back in June, so I just thought I’d record this song for her.”

Hiatt told the story of how he came to pen a train song to American Songwriter: “I wrote it when I was about 19. I’d been in Nashville a year — I came to Nashville when I was about 18, and I was writing for Tree Publishing Company, and I wasn’t a country songwriter by any stretch, but I was surrounded by those guys. Like Bobby Braddock, who wrote a lot of George Jones and Tammy Wynette hits. And Curly Putnam,who wrote ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Red Lane,’ all these hit country songwriters of the day. I was writing my little folk songs, or whatever they hell they were, and I was trying to pick up the craft, at any rate, and I said, ‘Well how do you write a country song?’ and one of them said one day, ‘Well, you gotta have a train song.’ And I though well s–t, I think I can write a song about a train.

And back in those days on Music Row, all the publishing companies were just in little houses, and the songwriters lived right next door. I lived in a little house with four or five other writers, and none of us were really country writers. One guy was from upstate New York trying to get some rock and roll thing going. Those were some real interesting times in Nashville, as it always is. But this one guy was from Birmingham and he kept going home every damn weekend like he couldn’t stand to be away. And I just though well s–t, there’s my ‘Train To Birmingham.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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New Live Box by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Is Triumphant Celebration of Rock & Roll

Live at The Fillmore (1997) is packed with covers and original tunes captured during 20-show run at storied San Francisco venue

In 1997, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played 20 shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Now Live at the Fillmore (1997), a long-anticipated box set that appeared on November 25, captures highlights from the band’s residency in the city by the bay. And what a truly amazing celebration of rock & roll it is!

“We’re musicians and we want to play,” Tom Petty told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the 20-show run, as noted in a statement on Petty’s website, which announced the box set back in September. “We’ve made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be.”

Six-LP format of the box set, which is also available in various other vinyl, CD and streaming configurations

Here’s more from the above press release: The shows at the Fillmore ended up being some of the most joyful, honest, inspirational and prolific experiences of the band’s career, creating a unique bond between the group and their fans. This album features more covers than originals, paying tribute to the artists and songs that shaped Petty’s love of music as he was growing up—before he became a legendary songwriter and performer in his own right.

Highlights include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and more from The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Chuck Berry and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The collection also features special performances with The Byrds’ front man Roger McGuinn and blues legend John Lee Hooker. Other standouts include extended versions of original tracks “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “It’s Good To Be King.”

The Fillmore was a laboratory for the band. The captivating sold out performances were such a hit, the Heartbreakers were even nicknamed the “Fillmore House Band.” At the final show, Petty noted as he took the stage: “We all feel this might be the highpoint of our time together as a group… It’s going to be hard to get us off this stage tonight.”

Added Mike Campbell: “Playing the Fillmore in 1997 for a month was one of my favorite experiences as a musician in my whole life. The band was on fire and we changed the set list every night. The room and the crowd was spiritual… AND… we got to play with some amazing guests. I will always remember those nights with joy and inspiration.” Here’s a nice short film about the residency.

You can find a lot more background on the residency in the liner notes here, which were written by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin. I’m also including a Spotify link to the box set at the end of the post. Now I’d say it’s time to take a look at some of the goodies.

Kicking it off is a great cover of a tune by the man about who John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry'”. Around and Around first appeared as the B-side to Chuck Berry’s March 1958 single Johnny B. Goode. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, released in July 1959 – an album that in my book you could title the greatest hits of classic rock & roll.

I’ve always loved J.J. Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. Evidently, so did Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Call Me the Breeze first appeared on Cale’s debut album Naturally, which came out in October 1971. Check out this great cover. Man, this is swinging! Here’s the neat official video.

Did I mention The Rolling Stones previously? Let’s check out Time is on My Side. Written by Jerry Ragovoy under the pseudonym Norman Meade, the tune was first recorded by jazz trombonist Kai Winding and his orchestra in 1963. The Stones recorded two versions of the tune in 1964. The first, which is a looser arrangement featuring a briefer, organ-only intro, appeared as a U.S. single in September of the same year and was also included on their second American album 12 X 5, released in October 1964. The second version, a tighter arrangement with a guitar intro, was included on The Rolling Stones No. 2, their second UK album from January 1965.

After three tracks into this review, you might wonder about originals. Frankly, I could easily focus on covers only, since there are so many excellent renditions. But of course, this box set also features plenty of Tom Petty songs. Here’s a nice take of I Won’t Back Down, the lead single of his first solo album Full Moon Fever, released in April 1989.

Let’s throw in a cool instrumental – a great rendition of Green Onions, a tune by Booker T. & the M.G.’s I’ve always loved. The group served as the house band of Stax Records. Green Onions was mostly written by keyboarder Booker T. Jones when he was 17 years old. Also credited to the other three members of the MG’s, Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), the tune first appeared as a single in 1962 and also became the title track of the group’s debut album that came out in October of the same year. Heartbreakers keyboarder Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell do a great job with it.

The last track I’d like to call out features a cool guest appearance by John Lee Hooker. Here’s Boogie Chillen, which Hooker wrote and first recorded in 1948. Buddy Guy has cited the tune as a key reason why he picked up the guitar and became a blues guitarist. Prompted by Hooker, this sizzling close to 8-minute version features neat harp and keyboard solos by Petty and Tench, respectively.

I easily could go on and on featuring additional tunes. Instead, I leave you with a Spotify link to the entire collection. If you dig Tom Petty and The Live Anthology, a November 2009 box set with a similar concept combining live renditions of covers and originals, I have no doubt you’re going to like Live at the Fillmore (1997).

Live at the Fillmore (1997), which appears on Warner Records, is available in 3-LP, 6-LP and 6-LP Uber Deluxe formats (exclusively via Tom Petty web store), 2 and 4-CD sets, and on major streaming platforms. The compilation was meticulously curated by producers Ryan Ulyate and Mike Campbell. Serving as executive producers were Benmont Tench, as well as Adria Petty, Annakim Petty and Dana Petty, Tom’s daughters and wife, respectively, who manage the Tom Petty estate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; YouTube; Spotify

Smokey Shines at Philly Met

Motown legend takes audience on a miraculous journey with music and memories

Shop Around by The Miracles must have been among the very first Motown songs I heard many moons ago. Motown and the infectious groove of the tunes that came out of the Detroit label started my lifelong love of soul music. When I coincidentally saw a couple of months ago that Motown legend Smokey Robinson was touring and scheduled to play the Met in Philadelphia, I immediately got tickets – yes, it totally was an impulse purchase. Saturday night, the time had finally come, and ooo, baby baby, what a miraculous show it was!

Smokey Robinson. Where do you even start? Now 82 years young, the man has enjoyed a 67-year career and counting – 67 years! It all started in 1955 when he formed the first lineup of the Five Chimes, the group that a couple of years later would become The Miracles. In August 1957, Robinson and his band met Berry Gordy Jr., who in 1959 with Robinson’s encouragement borrowed $800 from his family to create Tamla Motown and changed music history.

In September 1960, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles became Motown’s first stars with Shop Around. Credited to Robinson and Gordy, the tune topped Billboard’s R&B Chart and became a no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In the following years, Robinson continued to write hits for the group, including You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, The Tears of a Clown (a co-write with Stevie Wonder) and I Second That Emotion, to name a few.

In the mid-’60s, Robinson also became Vice President of Motown Records, serving as in-house producer, talent scout and songwriter. Apart from The Miracles, he penned and produced hits for other Motown acts, such as The Temptations, Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. Robinson also became a successful solo artist with hits like Quiet Storm (1976), Cruisin’ (1979), Being with You (1981) and Just to See Her (1987). According to his online bio, he has amassed writing credits for more than 4,000 songs.

Smokey Robinson (front, right) with The Miracles: Claudette Robison (front left), as well as (back left to right) Bobby Rogers, Marv Taplin and Ronald White

Robinson has won numerous accolades, including the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate (Howard University), Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts Award from the President of the United States. He’s also in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

While it is impossible to do Robinson’s impressive career justice with a brief summary, I’d like to mention two additional things. Bob Dylan once called him America’s “greatest living poet.” Among the bands who covered Robinson’s songs are two of the greatest of all time: The Beatles (You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me – 1963) and The Rolling Stones (Going to a Go-Go – 1982).

Smokey Robinson, Met gig shots and yours truly with the real star of the show

Let’s get to some music! Robinson’s set featured a nice mix of songs spanning five decades, including some of the big ’60s hits by The Miracles, a medley of mid-’60s Temptations tunes he co-wrote, as well as select solo tunes from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2018. He also included a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon, which he covered on his 2006 standards album Timeless Love. Not only did Robinson still hit extremely high notes with his falsetto, but the man’s physical flexibility was astonishing and frankly age-defying!

I Second That Emotion, co-written by Robinson and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland, first appeared as a single by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in October 1967. It was their third no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their second-highest charting single there since Shop Around in 1960, which had made it to no. 2. The tune was later also recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes and separately by Diana Ross & the Supremes with The Temptations.

On Ooo Baby Baby, Smokey slowed it down and went very high – the ladies loved it! And, yes, yours truly was impressed as well. Ooo Baby Baby, co-written by Robinson and Pete Moore, the bass singer of The Miracles, was released as a single by The Miracles in March 1965. It reached no. 2 on the Hot R&B Singles chart and no. 16 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The tune has been covered by numerous other artists over the years, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt.

With The Tears of a Clown, Robinson presented yet another hit billed as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, though with the distinction that it was the group’s only ’70s single in his set. Co-written by Robinson, Hank Cosby and Stevie Wonder in 1967, The Tears of a Clown wasn’t released as a single until July 1970 when it first appeared in the UK. In September of the same year, it also became a U.S. single. The tune ended up topping the Hot R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S., as well as the UK Official Singles Chart, making it the group’s biggest hit. The Tears of a Clown had first been included on the group’s August 1967 album Make It Happen.

The last two songs I’d like to highlight are both from Smokey Robinson’s solo career. Just to See Her, co-written by Jimmy George and Lou Pardini, was first recorded by Robinson and released as the lead single of his popular 1987 studio album One Heartbeat in March of that year. The tune is his last big U.S. hit to date, peaking at no. 8 and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively, and topping the Adult Contemporary chart. In the UK, it reached no. 52.

And then the time had come for the final song of the night and Smokey to take us on a cruise by car – a long cruise! Cruisin’, one of his best-known solo songs, first appeared on his studio album Where There’s Smoke…, which came out in May 1979. Penned by Robinson, the tune was also released separately as a single in August of the same year. It climbed to no. 4 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, as well as no. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Personally, I would have been okay with a shorter cruise and instead a couple of additional tunes, such as my beloved Shop Around. At the same time, it was heart-warming to see Smokey evidently having a ball and engaging with the audience, including two ladies he asked to come up on stage.

Following is Saturday night’s setlist:

Intro – Overture
Being With You (1981)
I Second That Emotion (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover – 1962)
Quiet Storm (1975)
Ooo Baby Baby (The Miracles song – 1965)
The Way You Do the Things You Do / Get Ready / My Girl (The Temptations covers – 1964, 1966 & 1964)
The Tears of a Clown (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
I Love Your Face (1992)
Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) (Kaye Ballard cover – 1954)
La Mirada (2018)
Just to See Her (1987)
The Tracks of My Tears (The Miracles cover – 1965)
Cruisin’ (1979)

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist that captures all songs of the above setlist sans La Mirada, the most recent solo tune Robinson performed, which I couldn’t find in Spotify. Robinson joked it hasn’t come out yet. By that, he meant the tune hasn’t been included on an album. It did appear digitally as a single in June 2018.

Sources: Wikipedia; Smokey Robinson website; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another Sunday Six where I embark on time travel into the great world of music, six tracks at a time. If you’re in the U.S., celebrated Thanksgiving and had a long weekend, hope you had a great time with family and friends with no stress while traveling or cooking. Regardless of your situation, music can work its magic on pretty much any occasion, so I invite you to join me on yet another excursion.

Lester Young & Harry Edison/Red Boy Blues

Today, our journey starts in 1955 when two American jazz musicians, saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry Edison, teamed up for an album titled Pres & Sweets. Young, nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was active between 1993 and 1959. He first gained prominence with the Count Basie Orchestra, in which he played from 1933 until 1940. After the Second World War, Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and frequently toured with the troupe for the next 12 years. Harry Edison who started playing the trumpet as a 12-year-old became a member of the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in 1933 before joining Basie’s orchestra in 1937. That’s where he played first with Young who nicknamed him “Sweets”. In the ’50s, he also toured with the Jazz at the Philharmonic and played with other orchestras, in addition to leading his own groups. This brings me back to Pres & Sweets, and Red Boy Blues, a composition by Young. He and Edison got a little help from some formidable friends: Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums).

The Wild Feathers/The Ceiling

My recent post for Thanksgiving reminded me of The Wild Feathers, a country rock band I first came across two years ago when featuring a tune from their then-latest album Medium Rarities. The group was founded in 2010 in Nashville. Their current line-up includes founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, sharing bills with the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Since the release of their eponymous debut in August 2013, they have released four additional studio albums, most recently Alvarado (October 2021), which I reviewed here. The Ceiling, co-written by King, Young and Burns, is a great tune from the band’s aforementioned first album.

Stevie Wonder/Sir Duke

Next, let’s pay a visit to the ’70s with an absolute soul gem by Stevie Wonder who I trust needs no further introduction. Sir Duke, off Wonder’s 1976 masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life, is a beautiful tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington who had passed away in 1974. The lyrics also mention Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Sir Duke was Wonder’s first tribute to people he admired. In the early 1980s, he also recorded Master Blaster, dedicated to Bob Marley, and Happy Birthday, which pleaded for what would eventually become the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in the United States. Sir Duke is one of these tunes that immediately put me in a great mood and make me move. Feel free to groove along!

Chuck Prophet/Credit

Are you ready for a stop-over in the ’90s? Ready or not, here we go with great music by Chuck Prophet. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is a relatively recent discovery for me. Blending rock, country, blues and folk, Prophet has released 16 solo albums since 1990, according to Wikipedia. Before launching his solo career in 1990, he was a member of rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red and can be heard on 10 of their albums. He also been a guest musician on more than 20 albums by other artists, such as True West, Cake, Warren Zevon and Kim Carnes. Most recently, he worked with songwriter Jenifer McKitrick for her forthcoming album Road Call scheduled for December 1. Credit, penned by English singer-songwriter Pete Shelley, co-founder of early punk band Buzzcocks, is the opener of Prophet’s 1997 solo album Homemade Blood. The more I hear of Prophet, the more I like him!

The Impressions/It’s All Right

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some more soul, and I got a true beauty that takes us back to August 1963: It’s All Right by The Impressions. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune first appeared on the eponymous debut album by The Impressions. The gospel, doo-wop, R&B and soul group was co-founded by Mayfield and Jerry Butler in 1958 as Jerry Butler & the Impressions, along with Sam Gooden, Arthur Brooks and his brother Richard Brooks, who all had been members of doo-wop group the Roosters. After releasing 12 additional albums with The Impressions, Mayfield left them in 1970 to launch a solo career. The group went on without Mayfield until their retirement in 2018, after a 60-year career. It’s All Right was also released as a single in October 1963 and became The Impressions’ biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides chart and climbing to no. 4 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In my book, it’s one of the most beautiful and uplifting songs I know. The tune also shows the magic music can do. Listening to it instantly makes you feel okay.

Pat Benatar/Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Once again, we’re reaching the final destination of yet another Sunday Six. My proposition for this week is a great rocker by 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Pat Benator. I was glad to see this great lady inducted. Hit Me With Your Best Shot, penned by Canadian musician Eddie Schwartz, first appeared on Benatar’s sophomore album Crimes of Passion, released in August 1980. It also became the album’s second single in September of that year and Benatar’s first top 10 U.S. hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Of her songs I know, I think it’s my favorite. Pat Benator, now 69 years and in the 50th year of her career, is still going strong. I happened to catch her recent Rock Hall induction performance and she was still kicking butt showing the younger cats how it’s done. So was her longtime partner in crime lead guitarist Neil Giraldo who also has been her husband since 1982.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! If you’re in the U.S. and celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a great time. Of course, Saturday also means taking a fresh look at newly released music. Perhaps not surprisingly given the holiday, this week looked lighter, so finding four tracks that sufficiently spoke to me was more challenging than usual. The first two songs are on albums that came out yesterday (November 25), while the last two tracks appeared as singles last Friday (November 18).

Chase Ceglie/Tonight

My first pick this week is Chase Ceglie, a 26-year-old pop-oriented artist and multi-instrumentalist from Newport, Rhode Island. From his website: In his youth, Chase became involved in the RI music community. While at Rogers High School, Chase was twice awarded the Heritage Music Festival Maestro Award for distinguished individual performances. From 2007 to 2013, Chase was annually selected for Rhode Island’s All-State ensembles as a saxophonist. Performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2012 and 2013, Chase was awarded the 2013 George Wein Jazz Ambassador Scholarship. He is a 2017 graduate of Berklee College of Music where he received a B.M. in Professional Music with a focus in Composition and Saxophone Performance. Ceglie’s debut album Onion, which he performed, recorded and produced while still being a student at Berklee, appeared in 2016. He has since released three additional albums including the latest titled Chaseland. Let’s check out the opener Tonight, written by Ceglie who in addition to providing vocals played acoustic piano, electric guitar and Moog synthesizer. Acoustic guitar, bass, drums and percussion were provided by Jonathan Elyashiv. Quite a pleasant pop tune!

Elder/Endless Return

Nine out of 10 bands Apple Music tags as “metal” don’t speak to me, since to my ears their music is primarily loud and the vocals resemble screaming. As such, I was a bit skeptical when I saw that same tag for Elder. It turned out this group, which blends progressive rock with metal, is different. From their Apple Music profile: Elder formed in Massachusetts in 2005 behind singer and main songwriter Nick DiSalvo; bass player Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Cuoto completed their lineup. The trio released their self-titled debut on Meteor Records in 2008. Their second album, Dead Roots Stirring, followed two years later on Meteor Records and Headspin Productions, with the EP Spires Burn/Release arriving via Armageddon in 2012. Fast-forward 10 years to Innate Passage, Edler’s new album. In traditional prog-rock fashion all of the five tracks are long, ranging from eight and half to more than 14 minutes. Here’s the perhaps appropriately titled close to 10 minutes Endless Return. Joking aside, I think it’s actually a pretty good tune.

The Dirty Nil/Bye Bye Big Bear

The Dirty Nil are a Canadian rock band from Hamilton, Ontario, who I first featured in a Best of What’s New installment in early January 2021. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil, who blend hard rock with punk, won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Following the release of their third studio album Fuck Art in January 2021, Sam Tomlinson replaced Miller on bass. Bye Bye Big Bear, co-written by Fisher and Bentham, is the group’s latest single. Their combination of grungy rock with a catchy melody is a bit reminiscent of Green Day.

Winterland/Set Me Free

Rounding out this week’s new music revue is Winterland, a Swedish rock solo project by Fredrik Nilsson. Here’s more from his Spotify profile: Reminiscing about 70’s yacht rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, he has discovered music as a therapeutic experience. [He] describes this experience. “I started writing for therapeutic purposes, and then there were a lot of songs all for a sudden. It has never been obvious that I should be on stage, be a front figure. I’ve just been keeping on really.” A music enthusiast from an early age, Frederik has played with several bands over the years, allowing him to develop a mature sound, which permeated his previous project, the band Waterhill. Here is Winterland’s latest single Set Me Free, a nice pop-rock tune credited to him and Björn Engelmann.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Chase Ceglie website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Time Again for Another Thanksgiving Music Tradition

It’s hard to believe that here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is upon us again. This is also the time of the year when New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 does its annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The following borrows from two related posts I published last year.

The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list. The countdown starts at 9:00 am EST the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and stretches all the way to sometime Sunday evening after the holiday. That’s how long it takes to get through all 1,043 songs. Obviously, they are all different tunes, as opposed to the much smaller rotation of songs most radio stations play over and over again.

The only interruption of the countdown happens at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful! Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant is also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album.

The tune is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film of the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Coming back to the countdown, this year, I didn’t get to submit any picks. After having taken a look at what I did last year, I still stand behind these tunes and shaking up things a little with four artists I had not selected in previous years: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers), both songs from 2021, as well as I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), tunes released in 2003 and 1985, respectively.

Following are the songs I probably would have submitted again this year, if I had had the opportunity. They are in no particular order.

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’ – Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown – Alvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard – Shake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter Skelter – The Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette City – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down – A Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real Me – Quadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand – The Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/Cinderella – Lysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening on and off to the countdown over the coming days. Will Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again come in at no. 1, which it has every year since Q104.3 began their countdown? While I think that’s a foregone conclusion, I still enjoy listening to the countdown. It’s not all rock, but there is lots of great music with no repetition while it lasts!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Last but not least, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don’t, hope you have a rockin’ and rollin’ great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Latest From the Horse’s Mouth Brings More Classic Neil Young

It’s hard to keep up with Neil Young. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter truly is on a mission to publish his music, both old and new, and he’s not slowing down. Since December 2021, Young who recently turned 77, has put out three live and three studio albums. The latter includes his new studio project with Crazy Horse, World Record, released on November 18.

I think there are two ways to look at World Record. One is to conclude the album presents nothing new we haven’t heard from Neil Young before, which is a fair statement. The other way to look at it is he is giving us more of classic Neil, the kind of music his fans love. If you’ve been a frequent visitor of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you will not be much surprised I wholeheartedly embrace the second view.

World Record is the 42nd studio album by Young and his 15th with Crazy Horse, according to Wikipedia. They had to count them all! It comes less than a year after its predecessor Barn, which appeared in December 2021 and which I reviewed here. Like Barn, World Record features Young’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, including Nils Lofgren (guitar, upright piano, dobro, slide guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, sweep percussion, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). In addition to vocals and guitar, Young provides upright piano, vibes, harp, harmonica, Marxophone, pump organ, Wurlitzer and kick tub.

From left: Rick Rubin, Neil Young and New Zealand radio DJ, record producer and TV presenter Zane Lowe during an interview conducted for Apple Music at Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif.

Unlike its predecessor, the new album was co-produced by Rick Rubin. While he has worked with countless other artists over the past 40 years, including the likes of Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sheryl Crow, Santana and ZZ Top, if I see this correctly, World Record marks his debut with Neil Young. Well, there’s always a first time! The album has a spontaneous and laid-back feel to it. According to Apple Music, Most of the songs started as melodies Young whistled to himself while walking in the woods, and were written from start to finish in just two days. I’d say it’s time to check out some music!

Let’s kick things off with the opener Love Earth. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Young. “The reason I wrote Love Earth is because I see it as a simple message,” he explained in a post on his website Neil Young Archives. “If you do good things to Earth and try to keep the planet clean and taken care of, she will take care of you and your grandchildren in return.” Young has been singing about environmental concerns since 1970 and the days of After the Gold Rush.

When I first heard the beginning of I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone), the heavily distorted guitar sounded immediately reminded me of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Young doesn’t fool around when it comes to distortion! The lyrics leave no doubt about the message:…I look out at the change and I wonder how the earth could be going to somewhere I’ve never seen/Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be/Fight with me now to the end of the wars and believe what they’ve done for you, if you now are free

The World (Is In Trouble Now) dials back the distortion in favor of Young’s pump organ and harmonica. In this tune, Young goes beyond describing troubling signs of change to calling for activism:…On this street we walk together now/To send this message here/Let me wait beyond the things I know/And try to be a light

Walkin’ On the Road (To the Future) is another acoustically focused song. As he oftentimes does, in this tune, Young offers some hope amid the doom and gloom of the planet’s decline:..Walkin’ on the road to the future is scary/We want to make the best of the past and not tarry/These are the things we’ve done and they have a cost/But we will take it on and try to make the best of us

A standout tune on the album is the 15-minute-plus Chevrolet, seemingly a bit of a contradiction lyrically speaking on an album that is focused on environmental decay. Since I already covered the song in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here. Instead, the final track I’d like to call out is The Wonder Won’t Wait.

World Record, which appears on Reprise Records, was recorded live and mixed to analog tape at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif. BTW, in case you’re wondering about the cover, it’s a shot of Neil Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, who was a Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist.

The final word shall belong to Neil: “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told Apple Music. “It’s probably the only time in the world that you could ever see where all the people of all the countries all around the world could have the same idea: ‘Wait a minute, we got to do something because this is no good.’ We’re all feeling it.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouYube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify