What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Richard/Here’s Little Richard

After having published this blog for more than six and a half years, a post on Little Richard’s debut album may seem to come out of left field, given my previously expressed longtime love of ’50s rock & roll. Moreover, it’s not the first time I’m writing about Richard and some of the songs on that album, Here’s Little Richard. In this case, the trigger was a cover of Long Tall Sally I heard yesterday by Delbert McClinton, who was on my radar screen thanks to fellow bloggers Max (PowerPop) and Cincinnati Babyhead, aka CB. As such, blame them if you don’t like it! 🙂

McClinton’s above rendition of Long Tall Sally appears on his most recent album Outdated Emotion from May 2022, a great covers collection of old blues, rock & roll and country songs. While he does a nice job with this rock & roll classic, it made me think of the incredible original and that nobody I know has done it better than Little Richard – not even my all-time favorite band The Beatles, though I dig their rendition as well. One thing led to another, and I found myself listening to Richard’s original, followed by the entire record – and, holy cow, what an album!

When Here’s Little Richard was released in March 1957, it was advertised as “six of Little Richard’s hits and six brand new songs of hit calibre.” ‘Okay,’ you might think, ‘so it’s more of an early greatest hits record combined with a few additional tunes.’ True, though putting previously released singles on a record was quite common back in the day. Plus, in any case, this doesn’t change the fact it’s a record packed with amazing music I’m thrilled to write about!

In September 1955, Richard signed with Specialty Records after he had sent a demo there and the label’s owner Art Rupe loaned him money to buy out his contract with his current label Peacock. Rupe also hooked up Richard with producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. Wikipedia notes that apart from overseeing Richard’s early hits, Blackwell is best known as grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams and Sly and the Family Stone at the start of their music careers.

In October 1955, Tutti Frutti backed by I’m Just a Lonely Guy became Richard’s debut single for Specialty Records and his first-charting song in the U.S. Five more singles followed prior to the release of Here’s Little Richard, including three that were included on the album: Long Tall Sally/Slippin’ and Slidin’ (March 1956), Rip It Up/Reddy Teddy (June 1956) and Heeby-Jeebies/She’s Got It (October 1956). The album, which was recorded in New Orleans and Los Angeles, was Specialty’s first 12-inch LP. Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies!

First is Tutti Frutti, a song I had first heard and come to love by Elvis Presley. Written by Richards in 1955 while working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in his hometown of Macon, Ga., the tune was credited to Richard Penniman (Richard’s birth name was Richard Wayne Penniman) and Dorothy LaBostrie who had been asked by Blackwell to revise some of Richard’s original lyrics, which Blackwell felt were too racy. “Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom” was kind of his catch phrase, something he would reply to folks who asked him how he was doing, according to Songfacts.

True, Fine Mama was one of the six “brand new tunes”. Solely penned by Richard, it didn’t become a hit, as far as I know. It also wasn’t released as a single. That said, the tune’s beginning sounds exactly like Good Golly, Miss Molly, which first appeared as a single in January 1958 and became another hit for Richard. Both tunes are great examples of his frenetic piano playing. You can literally picture him beating the crap out of the piano keyboard.

On Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave, written by Leo Price, Richard sounds like Fats Domino. It’s safe to assume this wasn’t a coincidence. Richard liked Domino’s sound and also thought of him highly otherwise. In October 2027 in the wake of Domino’s death, he told Billboard that “He’s the greatest entertainer that I ever known. Black, white, red, brown or yellow, he’s a just good guy and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to know him. I love him.”

Next up is the song that inspired this post, which I simply couldn’t skip. Long Tall Sally, another tune Richard wrote during his time as a dishwasher for Greyhound, was credited to him, Blackwell and Enotris Johnson. It became his biggest hit, topping the R&B chart and climbing to no. 6 on the pop chart in the U.S., while reaching no. 3 in the UK. Songfacts notes There really was a “Long Tall Sally,” but she was not a cross-dresser as sometimes reported. Little Richard explained that Sally was a friend of the family who was always drinking whiskey – she would claim to have a cold and would drink hot toddies all day. He described her as tall and ugly, with just two teeth and cockeyed. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary, who they called “Short Fat Fanny.” John and Mary would get in fights on the weekends, and when he saw her coming, he would duck back into a little alley to avoid her. Man, that tune is cooking – I simply can’t listen to it without starting to move. And if I ever do it means I’m probably dead!

Miss Ann, credited to Penniman and Johnson, is another example of a brand new tune. According to Songfacts, Some of Little Richard’s songs are based on real experiences, and this one is about a woman named Ann Johnson. Along with her husband Enotris Johnson, Ann, who was a white woman from Macon Georgia, took in Little Richard after he was kicked out of his house for what Richard once claimed was because of his homosexuality. The Johnson’s ran the Tick Tock Club, where Richard first performed. I wonder whether the personal connection is a reason why Entrois Johnson received a writing credit for the tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is Jenny Jenny, which if I see it correctly still was new when the album appeared. It was credited to Penniman and Johnson as well. Unlike the other new songs, Jenny Jenny also became one of Richard’s highest-charting tunes, similar to Long Tall Sally. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 2 on the R&B chart and climbed to no. 10 on the mainstream chart. In the UK, it reached no. 11.

Here’s Little Richard is a breathtaking record full of energy, which still sounds great nearly 66 years after its release. I recall I previously wrote Chuck Berry’s 1959 album Chuck Berry Is On Top might as well be titled ‘The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll’. Frankly, I think Little Richard’s debut belongs in the same category. So perhaps Berry’s album could be called ‘The Greatest Hits of Guitar-Driven Rock & Roll’, while an alternate title for Richard’s debut could be ‘The Greatest Hits of Piano-Driven Rock & Roll’. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I should also call out the dynamite musicians who backed Richard on the album. Some include Lee Allen (tenor saxophone), Alvin “Red” Tyler (baritone saxophone), Edgar Blanchard (guitar), Frank Fields (bass) and Earl Palmer (drums), who were all leading figures of New Orleans rock and roll and R&B. Allen later became a member of The Blasters. Palmer was one of the most prolific session musicians who played on thousands of albums. His obituary by The Associated Press from September 2008 noted Little Richard said that Palmer “was probably the greatest session drummer of all time,” citing Richard’s autobiography and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website rockhall.com.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. Hope you dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard; Associated Press/New York Times; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. I can’t believe we’ve already made it through the first month of 2023. I hope you’re feeling groovy and are in the mood for some time travel into the magic world of music. As always, the trip includes six stops in different decades. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Barney Kessel/A Foggy Day

Our journey today starts in 1956 with American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, a name I first heard from my brother-in-law in the late ’70s or early ’80s, then still my sister’s boyfriend. Kessel, who was active from the early ’40s until the early ’90s when a stroke put an end to his career, was particularly known for chord-based melodies. He was a sought-after session guitarist who worked with many other jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. During the ’60s, Kessel was a member of the prominent LA-based session group The Wrecking Crew, playing on recordings by The Monkees, The Beach Boys and others. Eventually, he left studio work to focus on his jazz career, both as a solo artist and sideman. In 1973, Kessel also co-founded Great Guitars, a jazz supergroup with fellow jazz guitarists Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. A Foggy Day, composed by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, is a track from Kessel’s 1956 album Kessel Plays Standards. Check out this amazing guitar tone!

Donald Fagen/The Nightfly

Let’s next jump to October 1982 and The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. His solo debut and first release without his longtime Steely Dan collaborator Walter Becker remains my favorite Fagen album. The Nightfly came 16 months after Fagen and Becker had dissolved Steely Dan in the wake of the Gaucho album, whose recording had been hampered by numerous creative, personal and professional setbacks. Fagen’s first solo album touches on topics from his childhood in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including late-night jazz disc jockeys, fallout shelters and tropical vacations. As such, it is very autobiographical, unlike his earlier compositions for the Dan. Notably, due to writer’s block, it would take Fagen 10 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad, which was produced by Walter Becker who also contributed guitar and bass. It also led to a supporting tour of Fagen and Becker, their first as Steely Dan since 1974. Coming back to The Nightfly, here’s the great title track.

Etta James/At Last

Time to pay a visit to the ’60s and the debut album by Etta James, an amazing vocalist who over a nearly 60-year career performed in multiple genres, such as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul. James had an eventful life and career, which included heroin addiction, severe physical abuse and incarceration. In spite of her struggles, except for an eight-year gap in the ’80s, James released albums at a pretty steady pace. Following her 1988 comeback album Seven Year Itch, James received multiple recognitions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), Grammy Hall of Fame (1999) and Blues Hall of Fame (2001), as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). Sadly, James passed away from leukemia in January 2012, five days prior to what would have been her 74th birthday. Let’s celebrate this outstanding artist with the title track of her very first album At Last! Co-written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Sun Valley Serenade, the tune was first recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, becoming a no. 2 on the U.S. pop chart in 1942. James’ beautiful rendition, one of her best-known songs, reached no. 47 on the U.S. pop chart and no. 2 on the R&B chart. What a voice!

Ry Cooder/Little Sister

Our next stop is July 1979, which saw the release of Bop Till You Drop, the eighth studio album by Ry Cooder. If I recall it correctly, the first time I heard about him was in connection with the 1984 Wim Wenders picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score – one of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I know. Cooder is a versatile artist who in addition to 17 film scores has released a similar amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Over his 55-year-and-counting career, Cooder has also collaborated with numerous other artists like John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt and David Lindley. Bop Till You Drop, yet another album to which my then-bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany introduced me, mostly is a collection of R&B and rock & roll covers. This includes the opener Little Sister, penned by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961. While I dig that version, especially Hank Garland’s lead guitar, I like Ray Cooder’s soulful rendition even more!

Matthew Sweet/I Belong to You

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some sweet power pop. This takes us to the current century, more specifically May 2018 and Tomorrow’s Daughter, the 13th studio album by Matthew Sweet. I first came across the singer-songwriter in January 2021 when his most recent studio album Catspaw appeared, and featured one of the tunes in a Best of What’s New installment. After playing in various bands in the ’80s and releasing two unrecognized solo records (Inside, 1986; and Earth 1989), Sweet achieved commercial breakthrough with his third studio album Girlfriend, which came out in October 1991 and to date is one of two records that reached Gold certification in the U.S. Between 2006 and 2013, Sweet collaborated on a series of cover albums (Under the Covers Vol. 1 – Vol. 3) with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. I featured two of their great renditions in previous Sunday Six installments here and here. From the above-noted Tomorrow’s Daughter, here’s I Belong to You, a lovely pop rock tune.

Mudhoney/Blinding Sun

Before yet another musical journey comes to an end, let’s visit one more tune. The year is 1992 and the month is October. That’s when American band Mudhoney came out with their fourth studio album Piece of Cake. Formed in Seattle in 1988, the group is viewed as instrumental in creating grunge and an inspiration for many other bands who embraced that genre, as well as alternative rock. Mudhoney are still active and have released 10 studio albums to date. A new one, Plastic Eternity, is in the can and scheduled for April 7. At the time they recorded Piece of Cake, their only charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 to date, Mudhoney featured Mark Arm (vocals, guitar, organ, piano), Steve Turner (guitar, harmonica, banjo, vocals) and Dan Peters (drums, percussion, vocals), who remain part of the current lineup, and Matt Lutkin (bass, vocals) who was replaced by Guy Maddison in 2001. Here’s Blinding Sun, credited to all members of the band at the time. I like their garage sound.

Last but not least, below is a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. As always, I hope there’s something here you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Saturday and my latest revue of newly released music. All picks this week are from albums that appeared yesterday (January 27).

White Reaper/Fog Machine

Kicking off this post are American garage rock band White Reaper. According to their profile on Apple Music, they are making retro style bubblegum punk mixed with some arena rock. Formed by childhood friends in Louisville, Kentucky, the group named themselves after a spooky decoration they came across in a Halloween story. They released a critically acclaimed EP in 2014, followed by their 2015 debut album, White Reaper Does It Again. Pitchfork named their sophomore LP, The World’s Best American Band, one of the 20 Best Rock Albums of 2017. White Reaper’s lineup includes Tony Esposito (guitar, vocals), Hunter Thompson (guitar), Ryan Hater (keyboards), Sam Wilkerson (bass) and Nick Wilkerson (drums, percussion). Fog Machine, credited to the entire band, is a tune from their fourth and latest studio album Asking for a Ride. It rocks and is pretty melodic!

H.C. McEntire/Turpentine (feat. Amy Ray)

H.C. McEntire is a singer-songwriter from Durham, N.C. From her AllMusic bio: Blessed with a perfect country voice and the uncompromising determination of a punk rocker, H.C. McEntire (also known as Heather McEntire) is best known as a member of the bands Mount Moriah and Bellafea, as well as for her work as a solo artist. With Mount Moriah, McEntire began exploring the atmospheric side of Southern roots music, and in her solo work, she dug deeper into this territory, mixing the artful side of indie rock with melodies and vocal lines that harken back to traditional country and folk. Her solo debut, 2018’s Lionheart, introduced her new variations on her style, and 2020’s Eno Axis upped the indie rock side of the formula. Now McEntire is out with her third album Every Acre, and I love what I’ve heard thus far. Here’s Turpentine, co-written by McEntire, Luke Norton, Daniel Faust and Casey Toll, the bassist of Mount Moriah, and featuring Amy Ray of contemporary folk duo Indigo Girls – a beautiful tune with a great roots rock sound!

The Arcs/Behind the Eyes

The Arcs are a garage rock band formed in 2015 by singer-songwriter and record producer Dan Auerbach as a side project to The Black Keys, his blues rock band together with drummer Patrick Carney. Apart from Auerbach (lead vocals, guitar), The Arcs currently also include Leon Michels (keyboards, guitar), Nick Movshon (bass) and Homer Steinweiss (drums, percussion). Richard Swift, another member who was featured on the group’s 2015 debut album Yours, Dreamily, passed away in July 2018 at the age of 41 due to complications from hepatitis, as well as liver and kidney distress. This brings me to Behind the Eyes from The Arcs’ sophomore album Electrophonic Chronic, a track credited to all members of the group and Russ Pahl who also provides steel guitar.

Vusi Mahlasela, Norman Zulu & Jive Connection/Prodigal Son

My last pick for this week is South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, who according to a bio on his website is simply known as ‘The Voice’ in his home-country, South Africa, celebrated for his distinct, powerful voice and his poetic, optimistic lyrics. His songs of hope connect Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future. Raised in the Mamelodi Township, where he still resides, Vusi became a singer-songwriter and poet-activist at an early age teaching himself how to play guitar and later joining the Congress of South African Writers. After his popular debut on BMG Africa, “When You Come Back,” Vusi was asked to perform at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. Vusi has toured globally and shared the stage with Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Paul Simon, Josh Groban, Ray LaMontagne, Natalie Merchant, Taj Mahal, among many others. A news announcement describes his latest release, Face to Face, as a lost recording from the archives in January with a 2002 collaboration between…Vusi…, singer-songwriter Norman Zulu and Swedish jazz/soul collective Jive Connection. Check out the amazing opener Prodigal Son, which drew me in right away!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes and some additional tracks from the four featured albums and artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; Vusi Mahlasela website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Hump Day and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for this week is Kodachrome, a great song by Paul Simon I was reminded of the other day when putting together a post about notable albums turning 50 this year.

One of these records is There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, his third solo album released on May 5, 1973. Not only is Kodachrome the opener of the album, but it also became its first single on May 19 that year. I’ve always loved the tune’s upbeat melody. Additionally, When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school is among the best memorable opening lines of a pop song I can think of.

Kodachrome became Simon’s highest-charting solo single at the time, peaking at no. 2 on both the U.S. and Canadian pop charts. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 8 in France, no. 15 in The Netherlands and no. 40 in Australia. It was one of three charting singles off the album that altogether spawned six singles.

The tune also helped fuel the success of the album, which topped the charts in Sweden and climbed to no. 2, no. 3, no. 4 and no. 5 in the U.S., Canada, the UK and France, respectively. It also charted in Norway (no. 6), Australia (no. 7) and Finland (no. 17) – yes, I had to count them all! Here’s a nice live version from Simon’s 2012 gig at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Simon, who last October turned 81, officially is retired from touring. He played his final regular concert in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York, on September 22, 2018. But apparently, Simon is not done with music. Last August, Spin reported he is working on a new album provisionally titled The Seven Psalms. It would be Simon’s first with new material since June 2016 when he released Stranger to Stranger.

Following are some additional insights about Kodachrome from Songfacts:

Kodachrome is a registered trademark of the Kodak company. It is a method of color transparency, but more commonly known as a type of color film the company started marketing in 1935. Paul Simon was working on a song with the title “Coming Home” when the word “Kodachrome” came to him. He had no idea what it meant, but knew it would make for a much more interesting song than “Coming Home.” The song became an appreciation of the things that color our world, and a look at how our memories are framed to fit our worldviews.

This was not a hit in England, partly because UK radio stations rarely played it. The BBC had very strict rules about commercial endorsements, and they would not allow stations to play songs that seemed to push products. It’s the same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of “Lola.” The lyrics were, “We drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” But Ray Davies had to redo them as “…Just like cherry cola” so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.

Paul Simon recorded this at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He sought out the musicians when he found out they played on “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, and was surprised to learn that they were not Jamaican musicians, but four white guys from the South. Simon went to Muscle Shoals to record just one song: “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” but when they finished that one much sooner than he expected, he also recorded “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.” Simon was the first big rock artist to record at the studios – Bob Seger and The Rolling Stones were some of the others who recorded there in the ’70s.

David Hood, the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, told us this story: “When Paul Simon walked into our studio, he thought, God, what a funky place. Because it was. He was used to working at A&R and Columbia Studios in New York, and studios in England and different places. And when he came and saw our little place, he probably thought, man, this is a rat trap.

It just so happened that the roof leaked in our studio right over the recording console, and as a short term fix, we taped sanitary pads across the ceiling just to absorb the water so it wouldn’t drop down on the recording console. So we had Paul Simon, who’s got hit record after hit record walking in and seeing this place with Kotex on the ceiling. He must have thought, what in the world have I gotten myself into? But we cut this track for him in two takes, and I think he thought, wow, well these guys know what they’re doing. It doesn’t really matter.”

In the song, Kodak film gets the title, but Simon uses a Nikon camera. That’s because it scans well in the line “I got a Nikon camera” – try inserting Kodak or Canon in there and it won’t sound right.

Simon sometimes sings the line “Everything looks worse in black and white” as “Everything looks better in black and white.” He changes it a lot, and claims he can’t remember which way he wrote it.

On June 22, 2009, Kodak officially retired Kodachrome color film after 74 years. Photographers had turned to more recent Kodak products and digital technologies, which led to Kodachrome’s decline.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Songfacts; YouTube

My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and I hope everybody is doing well. Earlier this week, the passing of David Crosby at age 81 once again reminded us we shouldn’t take music artists of his generation who fortunately are still with us for granted. One consolation is their great music will live on as long as this planet exists – that’s one of the incredible beauties of this art form. Let’s celebrate with another excursion into the amazing world of music with six tunes and, yes, Crosby will be one of our stops.

Bobby Timmons/Moanin’

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with groovy music by Bobby Timmons. The American jazz pianist and composer, who started performing during the first half of the ’50s, was best known as a member of Art Blakey’s band The Jazz Messengers, who he first joined in 1958. After his initial stint with this group, he moved on to Cannonball Adderley’s band in October 1959. Timmons was instrumental in creating soul jazz, a subgenre blending influences from hard bop, blues, soul, gospel and R&B. Several of his well-known compositions were written while he was playing with the two aforementioned bands. One is Moanin’, which first appeared as the title track on a 1958 album by The Jazz Messengers. I’m featuring a version Timmons subsequently recorded for an album released under his name in 1960, This Is Here Is Bobby Timmons. On his first album as the sole leader, Timmons was backed by Sam Jones (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

The Rainmakers/Rainmaker

Let’s jump to the ’80s for our next stop and The Rainmakers, an American pop rock band from Kansas City. When my former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany first introduced me to them with their third studio album Tornado, released in 1987, I instantly loved their jangly guitar sound. Formed in 1983 as a three-piece bar band and fronted by singer-songwriter Bob Walkenhorst, The Rainmakers have put out seven studio albums to date. While their most recent release, Cover Band, dates back to 2015, The Rainmakers still appear to be around as a touring act. After two breakup periods from 1990 to 1994 and 1998 to 2011, the band has been together in their original lineup since 2011. In addition to Walkenhorst (guitar, vocals), their current members include Jeff Porter (guitar, vocals), Rich Ruth (bass, vocals) and Pat Tomek (drums). Here’s the seductive Rainmaker, off the aforementioned Tornado album.

Little Village/Take Another Look

Little Village were a supergroup founded in 1991 by Ry Cooder (guitar, vocals), John Hiatt (guitar, piano, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals) and Jim Keltner (drums). They had worked together on Hiatt’s eighth solo album Bring the Family (May 1987) and decided to form a dedicated band during a break from their own musical projects. Like most supergroups, Little Village were short-lived and only released one eponymous album in February 1992. After a supporting tour of the U.S. and Europe, they disbanded later that same year. While the album didn’t do well commercially, it received a nomination for the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. The record also peaked at no. 23 on the UK Albums Chart. Here’s Take Another Look, credited to Little Village and featuring Lowe on lead vocals.

Grateful Dead/Shakedown Street

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s with a funky tune by the Grateful Dead. While in July 2018, I jokingly declared I had evolved to become a Deadhead from a bonehead, the reality is my knowledge of the Dead remains fairly limited and mostly includes their earlier albums. As such, I had completely forgotten about Shakedown Street, the groovy title track of their 10th studio album from November 1978, produced by the great Lowell George who is best known as the original frontman of Little Feat. Composed by Jerry Garcia with lyrics by longtime collaborator Robert Hunter, the tune also appeared separately as a single, but like most of their other singles, it was dead on arrival and didn’t chart anywhere. The album performed better, reaching no. 41 and no. 42 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I guess the Dead were never about chart success in the first place. Regardless, I dig this funky tune, which soundwise reminds me a bit of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday. That tune predated Shakedown Street by about four months.

Los Lobos/Made to Break Your Heart

Our journey continues in the current century. We’re going to September 2015, which saw the release of Gates of Gold, the 15th studio album by Los Lobos. I would argue this group blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros and norteños, is not just another band from East L.A. where they were founded in 1973 as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. They are also much more than La Bamba, their great rendition of the tune first popularized by Ritchie Valens. It became a no. 1 single for Los Lobos in the U.S. and many other countries in 1987 and remains their best-known song. They remain active to this day and released their most recent album Native Sons in late July 2021. I reviewed it here at the time. For now, let’s listen to Made to Break Your Heart. Co-written by David Hidalgo and Louie PĂ©rez, two of the four co-founding members who are still with Los Lobos, the tune is the opener of the above-mentioned Gates of Gold.

Crosby, Stills & Nash/Long Time Gone

Time to wrap up another trip and come back to celebrate the music by David Crosby. In order to do that, let’s go back to May 1969 and the eponymous debut album by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Crosby who was a brilliant musician but had a volatile character co-founded CSN in 1968 together with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, after he had been dismissed from the Byrds. With Nash joining from The Hollies and Stills coming from the dissolved Buffalo Springfield, CSN are an early example of a supergroup. They became even “more super” when Neil Young joined them as a fourth member in August 1969, just ahead of Woodstock. Among my favorite tunes on CSN’s debut is Long Time Gone, one of the album’s two songs solely penned by Crosby. Another gem on the record, Wooden Ships, was co-written by him, Stills and Paul Kantner. Stills also joined Crosby on lead vocals for Long Time Gone.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above songs. As always, I hope there’s something that tickles your fancy.

Sources: Wikipedia; 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 my weekly new music revue. All featured tunes appear on albums released yesterday (January 20). Let’s get to it!

The Heavy Hours/Days Since You’re Gone

My first pick this week are The Heavy Hours, an alternative rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio I first featured in a Best of What’s New installment last February. From their AllMusic bio: The Heavy Hours emerged at the beginning of the 2020s with an organic blend of alt-rock punch and thoughtful folk-driven storytelling. The Cincinnati band’s Wildfire EP helped them earn a label deal in advance of their 2022 debut full-length Gardens. Taking their name from a line by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the Heavy Hours formed in 2018, though their friendship dates back to their high school years. Inspired as much by folk music as by soaring post-rock, the band’s sound is a rich amalgam of guitar-based rock led by the yearning vocals of frontman Michael Marcagi. This brings me to Days Since You’re Gone, a nice tune from the group’s self-titled sophomore album.

Katatonia/Atrium

Swedish rock band Katatonia were formed in Stockholm in 1991. Starting out as a death metal studio-only project of Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström, Katatonia have since not only become a full-fledged group with different line-ups but also embraced a more melodic form of metal and progressive rock – it’s safe to assume I wouldn’t have picked a death metal outfit! Katatonia’s ninth studio album Dead End Kings became their highest-charting to date in Sweden (no. 12) and Finland (no. 4), respectively, and also entered the charts on a broader international scale, including the U.S. (no. 138) and UK (no. 142). In addition to Renkse (lead vocals) and Nyström (guitar), the group’s current members include Roger Ă–jersson (guitar), Niklas Sandin (bass) and Daniel Moilanen (drums). Atrium, written by Renske, is a track from their 12th and latest studio album Sky Void of Stars. Yes, the music is on the heavier side, but pretty melodic!

The Murder Capital/Return My Head

The Murder Capital are an Irish post-punk band from Dublin, who began performing in 2015. After setting up their own label Human Season Records in 2018, they released a series of singles the following year, leading up to their debut album When I Have Fears, which came out in August 2019. Their music has been compared to several UK post- and art punk bands, including Idles, Slaves, Shame and Fontaines D.C. The Murder Capital are James McGovern (vocals), Damien Tuit (guitar), Cathal Roper (guitar), Gabriel Pascal Blake (bass) and Diarmuid Brennan (drums). Here’s Return My Head, a tune from their new sophomore album Gigi’s Recovery. Not quite sure what it is about this song that drew me in. It’s slightly weird but kind of catchy at the same time!

The Bad Ends/Mile Marker 29

Wrapping up this week’s new music post are The Bad Ends, an alternative rock band from Athens, Ga. According to their website, the group catalyzed when Mike Mantione (vocals, guitar), who gained initial prominence as frontman of popular Athens band Five Eight in the ’90s, had a chance encounter with Bill Berry (drums, guitar, electric sitar), former drummer of R.E.M. The group also features Christian Lopez (guitars, mandolin, banjo), Geoff Melkonian (keyboards, piano, guitars, vocals) and Dave Domizi (bass, vocals). Mantione and Domizi had been friends since 1991, while Melkonian produced one of Five Eight’s previous albums. The Bad Ends “quietly recorded, produced, and mastered what would become The Power and The Glory at Mike Albanese’s Espresso Machine Studio in Athens,” their great debut album that is now out. Here’s the opener Mile Marker 29 – not a bad end at all! And, yep, this band can definitely not deny their hometown!

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist of all the above tunes and a few additional tracks by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The Bad Ends website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and hope this week has been treating you well. I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly feature, in which I’m taking a closer look at songs I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Over the weekend, I finally watched Moonage Daydream, the Brett Morgen documentary about David Bowie. While it’s not a traditional music documentary or biopic but a collage of concert and other footage from Bowie’s personal archives, I actually liked the film more than I thought. It also inspired this week’s song pick: Life On Mars?

Written by David Bowie, the tune first appeared on his fourth studio album Hunky Dory released in December 1971. It was the first record with Bowie’s new backing band featuring Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), the group that subsequently became The Spiders from Mars. Life On Mars? was also released as a single in the UK, but only in June 1973 at the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. It peaked at no. 3 there.

Life On Mars? has a bit of a history, which started in 1968 when Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for Comme d’habitude, a song by French music artist Claude François. But Bowie’s lyrics were rejected and it was songwriter Paul Anka who took the tune and turned it into My Way, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969. Apparently annoyed about the success of My Way, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote Life On Mars?, intended as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Wikipedia notes that Life On Mars? has been described as a “soaring, cinematic ballad.” Combining elements of glam rock, cabaret and art rock, the tune has a pretty complex structure with different chord changes throughout. The string arrangement was composed by Ronson. Rick Wakeman, who at the time was still a member of English folk rock group The Strawbs, played the piano. Soon thereafter, he would join Yes. Here’s a live version of the song, captured in Paris in October 1999.

Critics and biographers have called Life On Mars? one of Bowie’s best songs. The tune has been covered by various other music artists, including Barbra Streisand and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. After Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016, the song entered the charts in many countries and became a frequent tribute tune for Bowie. Tributes by organist Nicholas Freestone and singer Lorde gained broad popularity.

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The lyricism is very abstract, though the basis of this song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

Bowie has labeled the song “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums...

…In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

…Mick Rock, a photographer who shot the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Queen’s Queen II, directed the song’s official video, which he filmed backstage at Earls Court, London, in 1973. Bowie appears in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

Rock ended up producing two more versions of the video, first in the ’80s when he treated it with a bleached look, then in 2016 when the Parlophone label commissioned him to do a new edit. “The new version is my favorite, because there are all kinds of things you can do technically, including playing around with the colors and lots things,” Rock told Songfacts. [The first clip is the 2016 version – CMM]

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

John Fogerty Finally Feels Like a Fortunate Son

After 50-year quest, Fogerty gains publishing rights to most of CCR song catalog

John Fogerty managed to acquire the majority of his historic song catalog from Concord for an undisclosed amount, giving him the U.S. and worldwide publishing rights to most of the songs he wrote for Creedence Clearwater Revival. This marks the end of Fogerty’s 50-year quest to finally own this music, a remarkable story that was first reported by Billboard. It broke just in the wake of Jeff Beck’s death and I almost would have missed it.

According to Billboard, the reclaimed CCR copyrights cover more than 65 songs, mostly written by Fogerty, including gems such as Proud Mary, Down on the Corner, Fortunate Son, Bad Moon Rising, Up Around the Bend and Green River. Concord, which owned the rights since 2004 when it acquired CCR’s original record label Fantasy Records, retains the CCR master recordings in its catalog. They will also continue to administer Fogerty’s share of the publishing catalog for an unspecified amount of time.

John Fogerty signing publishing rights deal with Concord (Photo: Julie Fogerty)

This whole saga started in 1967 when Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz offered CCR, who were then still called The Golliwogs, the opportunity to record a full-length album. When they signed a deal with the label, John Fogerty didn’t realize Fantasy would also own the publishing rights to his songs. Fogerty who extricated himself from Fantasy in 1974 made repeated attempts to gain control over his early CCR catalog to no avail. After his relationship with Zaentz had soured, he even refused to perform CCR songs during his concerts until the late ’80s, since he didn’t want Zaentz to profit from any royalties.

Things took a turn to the outright bizarre in 1985 when Zeantz sued Fogerty for copyright infringement, claiming his song The Old Man Down the Road essentially was the music of Run Through the Jungle, a CCR tune to which Zaentz owned the rights. Fogerty prevailed and was also successful in his efforts for reimbursement of legal fees, though it required taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1989, it appeared Fogerty through mediation had reached a deal with Zaentz to finally buy his publishing rights, but it fell apart when according to Fogerty Zaentz doubled the price at the last minute, something he couldn’t afford.

While Fogerty signed with Concord after they had acquired Fantasy from Zaentz in 2004 and they reinstated artist royalties to him, Fantasy wasn’t ready to sell any of the publishing rights as recently as 18 months ago. That’s when according to Billboard, he and his wife and manager Julie Fogerty realized that under U.S. copyright law, rights to his compositions would begin reverting back to him in a few years as the songs turned 56 years old, but that wouldn’t have included rights outside the U.S. I think it’s safe to assume this legal context played a role in reaching a deal.

John Fogerty with his wife and manager Julie Fogerty (Photo: Kyle Spicer)

“As of this January, I own my own songs again,” John Fogerty said in a statement on his website. “This is something I thought would never be a possibility. After 50 years, I am finally reunited with my songs. I also have a say in where and how my songs are used. Up until this year, that is something I have never been able to do. I am looking forward to touring and celebrating this year!”

Added Julie Fogerty: “I was always hoping for a miracle that John would own his songs, and I’m so blissful knowing that this has finally come true for him. The songs he wrote for CCR were going to start reverting in approximately three years, continuing for each year forward. I thought to myself that if there was anything I could do to make that happen now, it would be that miracle that we have been waiting for more than 50 years. I began to produce a plan to purchase his publishing right now. In doing so, I enlisted the help of Irving Azoff, Jason Karlov, Susan Genco and we were able to secure the US Rights in addition to Worldwide Rights, which would not have been part of the copyright reversions. I am so joyful, grateful, and excited for John.”

Billboard rightly notes that Fogerty’s purchase decision stands in contrast to other artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, who recently sold their publishing rights for millions of dollars. Of course, nothing would prevent John Fogerty from doing the same. But after a 50-year quest, for now, he’s planning to hang to his publishing rights and for the first time in his life enjoy control over this music.

I’m happy for John and like to wrap up this post with clips of some of the songs he now fully owns. I’m also throwing in a Spotify playlist with these and some other tunes from his 55-year-plus recording career.

Proud MaryBayou Country (January 1969)

Green RiverGreen River (August 1969)

Bad Moon RisingGreen River (August 1969)

Down On the CornerWilly and the Poor Boys (November 1969)

Fortunate SonWilly and the Poor Boys (November 1969)

Have You Ever Seen the RainPendulum (December 1970)

Here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; John Fogerty website; YouTube; Spotify