My Playlist: Aretha Franklin

Earlier this year, I got very close to seeing Aretha Franklin live at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. I had already purchased two tickets and was thrilled to finally experience who I felt was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. Another cool thing was that the March 25th show would have coincided with her 76th birthday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

On very short notice, the concert was cancelled due to an unidentified illness. When media reported shortly thereafter that Franklin’s doctor had ordered three months of absolute rest, I didn’t have a good feeling. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had dealt with health issues. Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, barely five months after her birthday and what I’m sure would have been an unforgettable performance.

FRANKLIN
Aretha Franklin performing at the VH1 Divas 2001

Given the vast number of obituaries that have been published since news about her untimely death broke yesterday morning, I’m not going to develop yet another one. Instead, I’d like to focus on what will remain – an amazing amount of music by an amazing performer, released over a 60-year-plus professional career.

Based on Wikipedia, Franklin’s enormous catalog includes 42 studio albums, six live albums, 131 singles and numerous compilations. While it’s obviously impossible to capture all of that music in one playlist while keeping it to no more than 10 tracks, I tried to come up with tunes that span her entire recording period.

Where to start the undertaking? Well, how about Franklin’s studio debut Songs Of Faith from 1956, which was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Here’s While The Blood Runs Warm. Franklin was only 14 years old at the time, but you can already hear her powerful voice. This is giving me goosebumps!

Franklin’s fourth studio album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin from August 1962 became her first charting record, reaching no. 69 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Here’s Try A Little Tenderness, a tune I dig, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, and first recorded by the Ray Nobel Orchestra in December 1932. It has since been covered by many other artists, who in addition to Franklin most notably included Otis Redding in 1966.

Respect is perhaps the best-known Aretha Franklin song. The signature tune, which was written and first released by Otis Redding in 1965, appeared on her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You from March 1967. The song was Franklin’s first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, as well as the Cash Box chart. The record became her highest charting to date, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard album chart and topping the magazine’s R&B chart.

Another Franklin signature song undoubtedly is Think, co-written by her and her manager and first husband Ted White. The feminism anthem appeared on her 15th studio album Aretha Now in June 1968 and was also released separately as a single in May of the same year. White’s involvement in the song’s writing looks ironical, given Franklin divorced him in 1969, following reports of domestic abuse.

This Girl’s In Love With You was Franklin’s first ’70s album appearing in January that year, and her 18th studio album overall. Intriguingly, it includes the first commercial release of Let It Be, preceding The Beatles’ version by two months, and the following take of The Weight written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Oh, and if the guy on the slide guitar somehow seems to sound familiar, it was Duane Allman. I think not only is this soulful cover smoking hot, but it’s also a great illustration of Franklin’s great ability to take songs written by others and make them her own.

In February 1974, Franklin released her 22nd studio album Let Me Be In Your Life.  The second single from that record was Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do), co-written by Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder and Morris Broadnax. It was first recorded by Wonder in 1967, though he didn’t release his version until 1977. The tune became a million-seller for Franklin, topping the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at no. 2 on the Hot 100. It was her last major ’70s hit.

Jumping to the ’80s, Franklin collaborated on a number of songs with various other artists during that decade, such as George Benson, Elton John, George Michael and Eurhythmics. The tune I’d like to highlight in this context is Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, another feminist anthem that Franklin recorded with Eurhythmics. Apart from appearing as a single in October 1985, the tune was included on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and the British pop duo’s Be Yourself Tonight studio albums. Co-written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the song reached no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 9 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart. The track proves that Franklin could even make an ’80s commercial pop tune sound pretty hot.

A Rose Is Still A Rose, released in March 1998, was Franklin’s last studio album that reached Gold certification and became her best-selling record of the ’90s. Following is the title track, which was written by Lauryn Hill and is yet another feminist-based tune. It also appeared as a single one month ahead of the album, reaching no. 1, 5 and 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2003, Franklin’s 38th studio record So Damn Happy appeared. It included Wonderful, a song co-written by Aleese Simmons and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, which won Franklin the 2003 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

Franklin’s 42nd and final studio album A Brand New Me was released in November 2017. It featured archival vocal recordings from her years with Atlantic Records combined with new arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and newly recorded backing vocals. Here’s I Say A Little Prayer, which Burt Bacharach and Hal David co-wrote for Dionne Warwick who released it in 1967 as as single. It was also included on her eighth studio release The Windows Of The World. Franklin originally recorded the tune for the above noted Aretha Now album and released it as a single in July 1968, scoring a no. 3 and 10 on the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

As previously noted, the goal of the above playlist was to be career-spanning. As such, not all of the songs are among my favorite tunes. But at the same time, I feel that because of her powerful voice and soulful delivery, Franklin simply never sang a bad song in the first place – at least I haven’t heard one yet. Two other artists who come to my mind in this context are Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s a rare quality that is going to be part of Franklin’s legacy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

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Clips & Pix: Gregg Allman/Just Another Rider

Today is the first anniversary of Allman’s death

Hard to believe it’s already been one year since Gregg Allman passed away at the age of 69. The above clip, which is perhaps the best in-studio footage I know, is a great illustration what an exceptional artist Allman was. Also, take a close look at the fantastic musicians who backed him and how they are grooving along – it’s the impersonation of true craftsmanship and beautiful soul!

Co-written by Allman and Warren Haynes, long-time guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band and a co-founding member of Gov’t Mule, Just Another Rider appeared on Allman’s excellent seventh studio album Low Country Blues. It was his second-to-last studio record and the last to be released during his lifetime.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: George Harrison/Taxman

I just returned from the movies where I watched Concert For George, a documentary about a fantastic George Harrison tribute show Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne put together with Dhani Harrison and Olivia Harrison at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002. I could easily go on raving about it. For now all I want to say is, if you’re a fan of Harrison’s music, you should absolutely catch this film, which is available on DVD and is still on in certain select movie theaters. For listings you can check here.

With my mind still very much set on Harrison, undoubtedly because of the amazing documentary, I’m publishing my third and last post (promise!) to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday today (February 25). The above clip of Taxman is from a concert in Japan in December 1991, which Harrison conducted as part of a joint tour with Eric Clapton. The tour was also documented with the double album Live In Japan that came out in July 1992.

Taxman is one of three Harrison compositions that appear on Revolver, The Beatles’ seventh studio album released in August 1966. His two other contributions for that record were Love You To and I Want To Tell You.

Sources: Concert For George official website, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: George Harrison

Today, George Harrison would have turned 75 years, so this felt like a great occasion to put together a commemorative piece and playlist. Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. His father Harold Hargreaves Harrison was a bus conductor, while his mother Louise  (née French) was working as a shop assistant. He had three older siblings, two brothers (Harold and Peter) and one sister (Louise).

While growing up in Liverpool, Harrison developed an early interest in music and guitars. His father had reservations about his son’s plans to pursue a music career but still bought him an acoustic guitar in 1956. One of his dad’s friends taught Harrison a few songs. Not surprisingly soon thereafter, Harrison formed his first band with his brother Peter and a friend – a skiffle group inspired by Lonnie Donegan. In 1957 on the bus to his high school, Harrison had a chance encounter that started a life-changing path: Running into Paul McCartney. With their shared passion for music, the two hit if off pretty quickly.

McCartney, who had started playing with another young fellow called John Lennon in The Quarrymen, brought Harrison into the skiffle band in early 1958. By August 1960, the band had adopted rock & roll and following a few name changes evolved into The Beatles. Apart from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, the initial lineup included Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). In August 1962, Ringo Starr joined on drums, after George Martin had complained to Brian Epstein about Best’s poor skills. Sutcliffe had left The Beatles a year earlier, which had prompted McCartney to switch from guitar to the bass. The classic line-up was finally in place!

The Beatles

In the early years, Lennon and McCartney dominated the band’s songwriting. While Harrison got his first credit for Don’t Bother Me on the second studio album With The Beatles from 1963, it wasn’t until Help! (1965) that he started asserting himself more as a writer. Help! featured his two compositions I Need You and You Like Me Too Much. Eventually, he introduced Indian influences and other ideas. The Beatles’ music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, had it not been for Harrison.

Some of Harrison’s other song contributions during The Beatles period included If Needed Someone (Rubber Soul, 1965), Taxman (Revolver, 1966), Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967), The Inner Light (non-album single, 1968), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles, aka The White Album, 1968), It’s All Too Much (Yellow Submarine), Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road) and I Me Mine (Let It Be).

Before The Beatles broke up in early 1970, Harrison had already released two solo records, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which were mostly instrumental. In November 1970, his first post-Beatles solo record appeared, the triple LP All Things Must Pass – a powerful statement that Harrison was finally free from all artistic restrictions!

Concert For Bangladesh

In 1971, responding to a request from his mentor Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the Concert For Bangladesh to raise money for starving refugees in the war-ravaged country. In addition to him and Shankar, the charity event in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st featured an impressive array of other artists, such as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan. It attracted more than 40,000 visitors and raised close to $250,000 (about $1.55 million in today’s money), and essentially introduced the concept for Live Aid and other music charity events.

Between 1973 and 1987, Harrison released eight additional solo albums: Living In The Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975), Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), George Harrison (1979), Somewhere In England (1981), Gone Troppo (1982) and Cloud Nine (1987). He could not complete his final album Brainwashed due to advanced cancer but left it with a guide for his son Dhani Harrison and his friend and music collaborator Jeff Lynne to complete. The record appeared in November 2002, one year after Harrison’s death.

The Traveling Wilburys

In 1988, Harrison co-founded The Traveling Wilburys, which also included Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The band released two albums, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990). The latter record did not include Orbison who had passed away in December 1988. Harrison’s discography also includes two live records, four compilation albums and four box sets. Time for some music clips!

Wah-Wah appears on All Things Must Pass, which is widely considered to be Harrison’s best solo album. It also became his most successful solo release, topping the charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and various other countries.

Here Comes The Sun is one of Harrison’s compositions from The Beatles period and one of my favorite tunes from the Abbey Road album. The following clip captures his live performance during the Concert For Bangladesh, together with Badfinger lead vocalist and guitarist Peter Ham.

The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord) is from Harrison’s forth studio album Living In The Material World, which appeared in May 1973.

Dark Horse is the title track of Harrison’s fifth studio record from December 1974.

Crackerbox Palace appears on Thirty Three & 1/3, Harrison’s seventh studio album from November 1976. The tune, which features a slide guitar sound that had become a Harrison signature, was also released as the record’s second single in January 1977.

Blow Away is included on Harrison’s eponymous 8th studio album, which came out in February 1979. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single a few days ahead of its release.

Got My Mind Set On You, composed by American songwriter Rudy Clark, is from Cloud Nine. Released in November 1987 after a five-year hiatus from the music business, Harrison’s 11th studio album became a successful comeback, reaching no. 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Got My Mind Set On You was also the record’s lead single and reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Handle With Care is the opening track from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The tune, which like all songs on the 1988 album is simply credited to Traveling Wilburys, features Harrison and Orbison on lead vocals. Here is the official video clip.

If I Needed Someone is one of my favorite Harrison compositions and Beatles tunes. It appears on the band’s sixth studio Rubber Soul, released in December 1965. The following clip is from Harrison’s 1992 Live In Japan album, which features Clapton and a terrific backing band.

I’d like to conclude this post and playlist with Any Road from Brainwashed, released in November 2002. Harrison’s final solo album took about 14 years to complete. After he had started work in 1988, things got delayed due to business problems with his former manager Denis O’Brien, his work with the Traveling Wilburys and Ravi Shankar, and his involvement in The Beatles Anthology albums. In 2001, Harrison underwent surgery for lung cancer and radiotherapy for cancer that had metastasized into his brain. He continued to work on the album as long as he could and left instructions for Dhani and Lynne to complete things. Harrison passed away at a friend’s house in Los Angeles on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Concert For George Premieres On Big Screen And Vinyl

Celebration of Harrison’s 75th birthday with premiere of 2002 commemorative concert in select movie theaters and special audio reissue

This Sunday, February 25 George Harrison would have turned 75 years. Sadly, he passed away from cancer on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58 – I can’t believe it’s been more than 16 years! Exactly one year after Harrison’s untimely death, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London celebrated his life and music. That commemorative event, which had been available on DVD and CD, is now being shown in select movie theaters nationwide and today for the first time appeared as a 4-LP vinyl box reissue. Here’s a nice clip of the unveiling of the box.

The concert was organized by Harrison’s widow Olivia and son Dhani. Longtime friends Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne served as musical directors and performed during the show. Some of the other participating music artists included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, guitarist Albert Lee, Procul Harum lead vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker, session musican Klaus Voorman and Dhani.

Before the above artists came on stage, Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Harrison’s mentor Ravi Shankar, opened the event with a special composition by her father, presented together with a 16-piece orchestra of Indian musicians. Afterwards, surviving members of the Monty Python troupe performed comedy skits to acknowledge Harrison’s well-known sense of humor.

Following are a three clips from the concert. The first is a beautiful version of Harrison’s second song that appeared on a record by The BeatlesI Need You from Help!, performed by Petty and Heartbreakers.

The second clip is White Album gem While My Guitar Gently Weeps, featuring Clapton on lead vocals and guitar, backed by McCartney, Starr, Lee, Lynne and Dhani, among others. While it is probably impossible to beat the tune’s rendition and Prince solo performed during the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction show, it’s a pretty solid performance.

I also came across the following clip, showing Billy Preston singing My Sweet Lord, backed by the above other musicians. The tune was Harrison’s first big post-Beatles hit, which appeared on his solo debut album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the quality of the video isn’t great but the audio is decent.

“We will always celebrate George’s birthday and this year we are releasing Concert for George in a very special package in memory of a special man,” Olivia said in a statement.

In addition to the vinyl set, the reissue is available in four other formats: 2-CD + 2-Blu-Rays Combo Pack, 2-CD + 2-DVD Combo Pack, 2-CD Pack and, I suppose for the true die-hard fans, as a limited Deluxe Box Set, including four 180-gram audiophile LPs, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, a 12”x12” hard-bound 60-page book, plus a piece from the original hand-painted on-stage tapestry used as the backdrop at the Royal Albert Hall concert. The recording of the concert also premiered on music streaming services today.

The film that captured the concert was directed by David Leland and produced by Ray Cooper, Olivia Harrison and Jon Kamen. All profits from the sale of Concert for George products will go to The Material World Charitable Foundation, founded by George Harrison in 1973.

Sources: Wikipedia, Concert For George official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Gary Clark Jr., Jon Batiste & Joe Saylor/Ain’t That A Shame & Maybellene (Medley)

The above clip captures one of the highlights from Sunday night’s 60th annual Grammy Awards ceremony: Gary Clark Jr. teaming up with Jon Batiste and Joe Saylor, the leader and drummer of the house band of the Late Night Show With Stephen Colbert, respectively, for Ain’t That A Shame and Maybellene. Featuring great piano and guitar solos, the medley was performed in honor of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, who both passed away last year.

Ain’t That A Shame, co-written by Domino and Dave Bartholomew, appeared on Domino’s 1955 debut album Rock and Rollin’ With Fats Domino. It was also released as a single ahead of the record and became one of his biggest hits, peaking at no. 1 and no. 10 on the Billboard R&B Chart and Hot 100, respectively. Ranked at no. 438 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list, the tune ended up selling one million copies.

Also recorded and released in 1955, Maybellene is credited to Berry, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed. An adaptation from Ida Red, a Western swing fiddle tune that first had been made famous in 1938 by Bob Willis and The Texas Playboys, Maybellene was Berry’s first single and became his first hit. Like Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame, it reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart and sold one million copies. It climbed to no. 5 on the Hot 100 and is included in the above Rolling Stone list at no. 18. The song also appeared on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is On Top, released in July 1959.

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Cranberries/Zombie

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube