Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Billy Joel

As previously noted, while I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off for more than 40 years and occasionally included him or one of his songs in some previous pieces, I had not dedicated a post to him. After more than five years of writing this blog, it’s about time to change that. It was all seeded by this recent post from fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews. In turn, this led me to include the piano man in that post, which then triggered the idea to do this profile and playlist.

Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island where he has one of his residences to this day. Ironically, Joel wasn’t into the piano initially and only took it up reluctantly after his mother insisted. To be fair, he was only four years old at the time. During his teenage years, Joel got into boxing but decided to stop after he had suffered a broken nose in his 24th boxing match.

While attending high school, Joel was playing piano at a bar to help support himself, as well as his mother and his sister. His parents had divorced when he was eight years old. When he found himself with an insufficient amount of credits to graduate, he decided to forgo his high school diploma. After he had seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Joel knew he wasn’t going to Columbia University but to Columbia Records, according to the 2006 biography Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz.

Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014

In 1965, Joel joined British Invasion cover band The Echoes and played on some of their recordings. By the time he left the group in 1967, they had gone through a couple of name changes and were called Lost Souls. Joel’s new band, The Hassles, had a deal with United Artists Records, and over the next two years released two albums and a few singles, none of which were commercially successful.

In 1969, Joel and Lost Souls’ drummer Jon Small departed, formed the duo Attila and released an eponymous debut album in July 1970. Things unraveled after Joel had started an affair with Small’s wife Elizabeth Weber Small who eventually became Joel’s first wife in 1973 and manager. Making music and getting into relationships oftentimes don’t mix well!

Joel subsequently signed with Family Productions and launched his solo career with the album Cold Spring Harbor, which appeared in November 1971. It was the first of 12 pop albums Joel released between 1971 and 1993. In September 2001, Joel came out with a classical music album, Fantasies & Delusions, his last to date and I guess by now we can safely assume is his final release of original music.

This shall suffice for background. Let’s get to some music. Following, I’ll highlight six songs that are included in a Spotify playlist, together with some additional tunes. Here’s She’s Got a Way, a sweet love song that most likely is about Joel’s above-mentioned wife Elizabeth.

In October 1974, Joel released his third studio album Streetlife Serenade. In The Entertainer, he gets cynical about the music business and being subject to changing public taste where one day an artist is in only to find themselves out the next day.

After a series of only marginally successful records, Joel scored his breakthrough in September 1977 with the release of his fifth studio album The Stranger. It was the first of four records produced by Phil Ramone who worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Here’s Only the Good Die Young. Wikipedia notes the song’s lyrics about a young man’s determination to have premarital sex with a Catholic girl stirred controversy. Pressure from religious groups to have the tune banned from radio stations turned a relatively obscure single into a highly demanded tune overnight and a top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel followed up his breakthrough album The Stranger with 52nd Street in October 1978, his first of four records to reach the top of the Billboard 200. It also earned him two Grammys. Here’s the catchy uptempo song My Life, which became the lead single. Reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also was one of Joel’s highest-charting songs at the time.

If you’d ask me to name my favorite Billy Joel album, I’d go with The Nylon Curtain from September 1982. Joel’s eighth studio album isn’t among the four previously mentioned no. 1 records, though it did pretty well, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The opener Allentown, about the plight of American steelworkers following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure, is one of my favorite Joel songs.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Joel’s most recent and likely final pop album River of Dreams, released in August 1993. At that time, I was a grad student, on Long Island of all places, and frequently listened to the album’s title track on the radio. I also got the record on CD when it was released. The song became Joel’s biggest hit of the ’80s, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, his last top 10 single. I’ve always loved the tune’s combination of pop and gospel elements.

Here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist, which includes the previously featured songs, as well as additional tunes from each of Joel’s 12 pop albums.

Billy Joel is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. During his 22-year pop recording career, he had 33 top 40 hits in the U.S., including three that topped the Billboard Hot 100. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (1999) and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Frankly, I had no idea the latter existed – always nice to learn something new when putting together posts.

While the above accomplishments are very impressive, what I find most amazing is that the piano man continues to sell out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That’s about 20,000 tickets each time. And all of that despite not having released any new pop music in close to 30 years!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Keep On Rocking 40-Plus Years and Counting

The most famous line-up of my all-time favorite band The Beatles existed from August 1962 until September 1969 when they collectively recorded their last song appropriately titled The End, the final track of the Abbey Road album – not a bad duration for a band, given the music business oftentimes is dominated by larger-than-life egos. Yet as productive as The Fab Four were, these seven years look pretty moderate compared to the groups featured in this post, who have been rocking for more than 40 years – in one case even reaching 60 years!

Following are three criteria a band needed to satisfy to be considered for the post. They need to have at least one remaining original member. A group’s duration was measured in terms of active years, not how long they have been together on paper. For example, while Deep Purple were founded in 1968, they “only” have played together for 48 years, not 54 years, if you consider their break-up between 1976 and 1984. Last but not least, I solely included bands I like.

Following I’m highlighting six groups in chronological order of when they were founded with one tune from each. A Spotify playlist at the end of the post includes those tracks, plus songs from a few additional bands meeting the above criteria. Altogether, I decided to include 10 picks. Let’s get to it.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, have been active for an incredible 60 years, making them the longest-running band on this list. With Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, they still have two original members who have been key to the group. It’s also noteworthy that Ronnie Wood has been part of the line-up since 1975. Sadly, the Stones lost their long-time drummer Charlie Watts last August. He had joined them back in 1963. To date, the Stones have released 30 studio albums, 33 live records and 29 compilations, among others. On November 23, 2021, they finished their most recent tour (No Filter Tour) in Hollywood, Fla. Here’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which first appeared in May 1968 as a non-album single.

The Who

Approximately two years after the Stones, in 1964, another dynamite British rock band was formed: The Who. Like their compatriots, the group has two original and essential members to this day, guitarist Pete Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Counting various breaks along the way, The Who have been active for 50 years. Their catalog includes 12 studio albums, 16 live recordings and 32 compilations, among others. Just on Monday this week, The Who announced a 2022 North American tour, The Who Hits Back, scheduled to kick off on April 22 at Hardrock Live in Hollywood, Fla. – the very same venue where the Stones wrapped up their tour last year. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend and their band are playing New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 26 – damn, this is tempting! Here’s Going Mobile from my favorite Who album Who’s Next.

Deep Purple

On to my favorite hard rock band of all time, Deep Purple, who were initially established in 1968. One of the founding members, drummer Ian Paice, remains part of the group’s current formation. Two additional present members, bassist Roger Glover and lead vocalist Ian Gillan joined in 1969, and as such were part of the group’s classic line-up that also included guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. Deep Purple’s discography encompasses 22 studio albums, 45 live records and 28 compilations. The band is also touring this year starting in May, mostly in Europe. Here’s the epic Child in Time, a track from their fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970 – the first to feature the classic line-up.

Aerosmith

The bad boys from Boston were formed in 1970. Remarkably, four of the group’s current five members are co-founders: Steven Tyler (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums, percussion). Second guitarist Brad Whitford joined in 1971. While Perry and Whitford, respectively, had five and three-year interruptions in-between and missed the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place album, Tyler, Hamilton and Kramer have played on all of the band’s 15 studio records to date. Aerosmith’s catalog also includes six live records and 16 compilations. On January 31, the group announced the cancellation of their European tour that had been planned for June and July, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. Here’s Janie’s Got a Gun, one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes off their 10th studio album Pump, released in September 1989.

AC/DC

Australian rock and rollers AC/DC have been around since 1973. Not counting their hiatus between 2016 and 2020, this amounts to 45 years. Lead guitarist Angus Young remains as the only founding member. There are three other longtime members: Phil Rudd (drums), Cliff Williams (bass, backing vocals) and Brian Johnson (lead vocals), who first joined the band in 1975, 1977 and 1980, respectively. AC/DC’s catalog features 17 studio albums, three live records and two box sets, among others. Here’s Play Ball, a great track from the group’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust that appeared in November 2014, featuring all of the above members.

U2

The last group I’d like to highlight in this upfront section of the post are Irish rockers U2 who were formed in Dublin in 1976 under the name Feedback. It’s the only band on this list whose current members were all co-founders. That being said, their present line-up is not the group’s initial formation, which during their first year also included a second guitarist, Dik Evans, the older brother of David Evans known as The Edge. U2’s other members are Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums). To date, the band’s discography consists of 14 studio albums, one live record and three compilations, among others. U2 were most recently on the road in 2019 for the second part of The Joshua Tree Tour. I caught one of the shows during the first part of that tour in 2017 – my only U2 concert so far, and a memorable experience! Here’s Red Hill Mining Town, a track from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree that came out in March 1987.

Following is the aforementioned Spotify list.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Who website; Deep Purple website; Aerosmith website; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Fastball

When I recall a song I haven’t heard in ages, I tend to revisit the band or artist who performed it, especially if I don’t know them well beyond a tune or two. That’s what happened with Fastball when I remembered The Way the other day and included the cool tune in my last Sunday Six feature. After sampling a bunch of other songs from different albums by the American alternative-rock-turned-power pop band, I liked what I heard and decided to put together this profile and playlist.

Fastball were formed in 1994 in Austin, Texas by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). After Shuffield had introduced Zunigo to Scalzo who had been with California group The Goods, the three of them decided to start their own group.

Following a series of names, including Star 69, Magneto, Magneto USA, Ed Clark’s Business Bible and Starchy, they decided on Fastball. What appears to be a baseball metaphor is definitely more memorable than some of the other names they had considered. Fastball managed to quickly gain popularity in the Austin music scene. After a local journalist had seen them perform, they brought them to the attention of Hollywood Records, which led to a record deal soon thereafter.

Up to that point, Fastball’s story almost looked like a fairytale. Other bands struggle for years to sign with a label if they ever get that far. But the Texas group’s ride wouldn’t be without bumps. While their debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996 yielded a win in the “Best Pop Band” category at the Austin Music Awards (tied with The Wannabes, another Austin group), the record sold poorly (about 5,500 copies as of April 1998). Suddenly, the future was wide open, to creatively borrow from Tom Petty, and all of the band’s members felt compelled to keep their day jobs.

Then came their break – again, something many music artists never get. And it was a big one. In February 1998, Fastball released the above-mentioned The Way, the lead single of their then-upcoming sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy. The Way, which only was the group’s second single, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, as well as in Canada on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts. Overseas, it also reached no. 7 in Sweden and no. 21 in the UK.

By September, only six months after its release, All the Pain Money Can Buy had sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, thus reaching Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Interestingly, the album “only” reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 18 and also charted in a few European countries. Fastball had arrived. But their commercial and chart performance would be short-lived – again, an all-too-familiar playbook in the brutal music business.

In September 2000, Fastball’s third album appeared. It was appropriately titled The Harsh Light of Day. While it received positive reviews, once again, it turned out to be a record that didn’t sell well. As of January 2004, sales totaled a mere 84,000 copies – definitely a harsh drop compared to the predecessor’s million units sold in just six months! It also was the group’s last album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 97.

Despite lacking chart and commercial success, Fastball managed to soldier on. They remain active to this day in their original line-up and have since released four additional studio albums. Their catalog also includes two live records and a compilation. I’d say the time has come to take a closer look at some of their songs. And there’s definitely more to this band than The Way.

I’d like to do this in chronological order starting with Fastball’s debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996. Compared to their sophomore record, the songs on their debut effort sound a bit rawer and remind me a little of Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie. Here’s the title track, written by Scalzo.

Turning to Fastball’s hugely successful second album All the Pain Money Can Buy, I’m skipping The Way, since I just covered it (though the tune is included in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to highlight Out of My Head, the only other song that had sounded vaguely familiar when checking out the band’s music. Penned by Scalzo, the song also became the third single off the album and the last to make the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 20 – interestingly outperforming The Way, which missed the U.S. mainstream chart but as noted above was pretty successful elsewhere.

You’re an Ocean is a catchy pop-rock tune from Fastball’s third album The Harsh Light of Day, the last appearing on the band’s original label Hollywood Records. Once again, the song was written by Scalzo. The record featured some notable guests, including Billy Preston and Brian Setzer.

In June 2004, Fastball released their fourth album. Previously, they had signed with new record label Rykodisc. The record was mixed by Bob Clearmountain who is known for having worked with major acts like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Toto and Bon Jovi. Two tracks, Someday and Red Light, were produced by Adam Schlesinger who among others founded Fountains of Wayne. Here’s Someday written by Miles Zuniga – nice power pop! The album did not chart.

The Beatlesque The Malcontent (The Modern World) is from Fastball’s fifth studio album Keep Your Wig On that came out in April 2009. The band had switched labels, and the record appeared on MRI/RED Distribution. It was co-produced by Miles Zuniga and CJ Eiriksson, with mixing once again done by Bob Clearmountain.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Friend or Foe, the opener of Fastball’s seventh and most recent studio album The Help Machine from October 2019. The song was written by Zuniga. The record appeared on the group’s own 33 1/3 label.

It’s a pity Fastball have largely been under the radar screen for the past 20 years or so. I find their melodic rock and power pop that oftentimes is reminiscent of The Beatles and Badfinger enjoyable. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes by the group.

“When I look at our catalog, there’s not a bad record in there,” notes drummer Joey Shuffield in the band’s online bio, “We’ve been through our ups and downs, but I think we’ve really found our groove over the last few years.”

“We spent a lot of time on a major label, so initially the transition back to being an indie band was a little bumpy,” Shuffield further points out. “But now it feels comfortable being responsible for everything ourselves, because that way we’re more likely to get it right. We’re all so into the music now, and I think you can hear that on the last couple of albums.”

Adds Tony Scalzo: “It’s only natural that you get better at what you do as you get older and more experienced. But you can’t always figure that out when you’re in your 20s. Now that we’re on our own label, the pressure’s all on us, and that’s fine. All I ever really wanted was a consistent creative outlet, and we’ve got that now.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Fastball website; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Meat Loaf

As widely reported by the media, Meat Loaf passed away last week at the age of 74. Instead of writing another obituary that really wouldn’t add anything to what already has been revealed, I decided to primarily focus this post on music and put together a playlist of his songs I dig. I was actually surprised how many I know. If you feel like reading a traditional obituary, here’s a pretty good one published in The New York Times.

Before we get to music, I’d like to provide a bit of background, so I guess there’s a similarity to an obituary. Meat Loaf was born Michael Lee Aday on September 27, 1947, in Dallas, Texas. He was the only child of Wilma Artie (née Hukel), a school teacher and member of a girls gospel quartet, and Orvis Wesley Aday, a former police officer who went into business selling a homemade cough remedy with his wife and a friend.

Meat Loaf Should Have Had Two Parts in The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Den  of Geek
Meat Loaf as Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

During his high school years, Aday appeared in various school stage productions. In the late ’60s, he relocated from Dallas to Los Angeles and formed his first band, Meat Loaf Soul, after a nickname his football coach had given him because of his weight. The band subsequently adopted different names and opened up for well-known acts like The Who, The Stooges and Grateful Dead.

Subsequently, Aday joined the L.A. production of the musical Hair. The resulting publicity led to a Motown-produced album that appeared in October 1971, Stoney and Meatloaf, a collaboration with blues and R&B singer Shaun “Stoney” Murphy. In late 1973, Aday was picked for the original L.A. Roxy cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The musical was turned into a motion picture in 1975 and became a cult film.

How Meat Loaf Met Jim Steinman
Meat Loaf (left) and Jim Steinman

While Aday and his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman had started to work on what became Meat Loaf’s debut solo album Bat Out of Hell in 1972, it took until October 1977 for the record to appear. It was the first in a trilogy of Bat Out of Hell albums, and the first of 12 solo albums Meat Loaf recorded between 1977 and 2016. That shall suffice for the background. Let’s get to some songs. Apart from highlighting various tunes upfront, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist at the end of the post, which includes additional music.

Let’s kick it off with Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul, a great tune from the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack performed by Meat Loaf. Like all other songs from the soundtrack, it was written by  English-New Zealand actor, writer, musician and television presenter Richard O’Brien. Meat Loaf also acted in the film as Eddie, who breaks out of a deep freeze riding a motorcycle, interrupts mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), and gets the Transylvanians dancing and singing the tune. Eddie is then killed with a pickaxe by a jealous Dr. Frank after his creation Rocky had started to dance and enjoyed the performance of Eddie and the Transylvanians. You can watch a clip of Eddie’s appearance here. What a classic!

The Bat Out of Hell album, released in October 1977, includes various great songs. Since I only wanted to call out one here, I decided to go with the title track, a close to 10-minute over-the-top rock opera spectacle written by Steinman. Bat Out of Hell has sold over 43 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful records of all time.

In September 1981, Meat Loaf released his sophomore studio album Dead Ringer. I’ve always dug Dead Ringer for Love. Aday’s duett with Cher also appeared separately as a single released in the UK in November of the same year, where it reached no. 5 in the charts. Surprisingly, if I see this correctly, the tune did not appear as a single in the U.S. Predictably, Dead Ringer could not match the success of Bat Out of Hell.

Wolf at the Door is a tune from Meat Loaf’s third album Midnight at the Lost and Found. Notably, the record did not include any songs written by Steinman due to a dispute between Aday and his longtime collaborator. As such, it had more of a straight pop rock sound compared to the massive rock opera productions by Steinman. Wolf at the Door was penned by his wife Leslie Aday (born Leslie Edmonds) and bassist Steve Buslowe.

For Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, Meat Loaf’s sixth studio album from September 1993, Steinman was back as producer. Predictably, the record marked a return to the heavy operatic sound of Bat Out of Hell. Here’s the epic Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Steinman. Steinman had first included it on his own 1981 solo album Bad for Good, using uncredited Canadian rock vocalist Rory Dodd. While it’s not a bad version, it sounds somewhat timid compared to Meat Loaf’s melodramatic rendition. The single did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 13 and no. 11 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, as well as no. 4 and no. 4 in Canada and New Zealand, though its performance paled that of I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), which topped the charts in all of these countries. Yes, it’s an over-the-top rock & roll dream, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Couldn’t Have Said It Better is the title track of Meat Loaf’s eighth studio album that appeared in September 2003. It was another record without any song written by Jim Steinman. While according to Wikipedia, Meat Loaf said it was his best album since Bat Out of Hell, once again, the record couldn’t match the enormous success of his solo debut – not really much of a shock to me. The record did best in the UK where it peaked at no. 4 and in Germany where it reached no. 8. In the U.S., it got to no. 85 on the Billboard 200.

The final tune I’d like to call out is from Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, the last in the trilogy, and Meat Loaf’s ninth studio album released in October 2006. While it was produced by Desmond Child, making it the only Bat album not produced by Jim Steinman, Steinman wrote half of the songs. This includes the power ballad It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, a duett Meat Loaf performed with Norwegian singer-songwriter Marion Raven. It was Meat Loaf’s last single to enjoy significant chart success, including in Norway where it hit no 1, as well as the UK and Germany, where it reached no. 6 and no. 7, respectively.

Following is a playlist featuring most of the above tracks and some additional tunes. Spotify did not have the Bat Out of Hell III and Couldn’t Have Said It Better albums. Peace on Earth from Meat Loaf’s 10th studio album Hang Cool Teddy Bear was only available as a live version.

Love him for many of his catchy songs, or hate him for his oftentimes theatric over-the-top productions, there can be no doubt Meat Loaf was a pretty unique artist who combined rock music and acting in his shows. And he was remarkably successful, even though health issues had sidelined him during the last five to seven years of his life.

Only his Bat Out of Hell trilogy has sold more than 65 million albums worldwide, mostly stemming from the first record. Combined sales of all of his albums exceed 100 million worldwide. The Bat Out of Hell album remained in the charts for more than nine years. After more than 40 years since its release, it still sells an estimated 200,000 copies annually.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Carpenters

“Bland”, “saccharine” and “clean-cut.” These are a few attributes music critics used to describe Carpenters back in their heyday. Or how about this commentary by Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs who felt Richard Carpenter and his sister Karen Carpenter had “the most disconcerting collective stage presence of any band I have seen.” He added promotional photos made them resemble “the cheery innocence of some years-past dream of California youth.” Even if some of the above wasn’t entirely inaccurate, I have no problem admitting I’ve always liked the music by Carpenters.

Before highlighting some of their songs and presenting additional tunes in a playlist at the end of this post, I’d like to provide a bit of background. Richard Carpenter (October 15, 1946) and Karen Carpenter (March 2, 1950) were born in New Haven, Conn. According to a bio on Carpenters’ official website, the siblings’ father Harold Bertram Carpenter “hated the frigid New England winters. So, in June of 1963, the family moved to a suburb of L.A., Downey, California.”

Carpenters Biography

Early in their childhood, Richard and Karen started sharing a common interest in music. Richard picked up the piano at age 8. By the time he was 14, he had decided he wanted to become a professional musician and started taking lessons at Yale School of Music. Karen initially got into playing the glockenspiel, but after enrolling at Downey high school, she discovered her enthusiasm for the drums.

In 1965, the siblings started performing together in the jazz-focused Richard Carpenter Trio. In addition to Richard (piano) and Karen (drums), the group included Wes Jacobs (tuba, standup bass), a friend of Richard’s who he had met the previous year at California State College at Long Beach. After The Richard Carpenter Trio had disbanded in 1967, the siblings went on to form a band called Spectrum. But their music didn’t conform to rock and roll standards at the time, so they dissolved in 1968. Richard and Karen decided to soldier on as a duo and became Carpenters.

The Carpenters (live in australia) 1972- Love Is Surrender - YouTube

In April 1969, Carpenters signed with A&M Records after label owner Herb Alpert had heard and was intrigued by Karen’s voice. Their debut album Offering appeared in October 1969. While it didn’t sell well, a rendition of The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride, which had been arranged by Richard, gave Carpenters their first charting U.S. single on the Billboard Hot 100, where it climbed to no. 54. Their fortune changed drastically with their next single, (They Long to Be) Close to You, a tune written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It became the first of three songs to top the U.S. mainstream chart and the first of 15 no. 1 singles on the Adult Contemporary (then called Easy Listening) chart.

During their 12-year recording career, Carpenters released nine studio albums, one Christmas album, two live albums, two compilations and approximately 30 singles. This doesn’t include the numerous posthumous releases following the untimely and tragic death of Karen at age 32 from heart failure caused by complications from anorexia nervosa. Let’s get to some music!

My first pick is the aforementioned rendition of Ticket to Ride. Rearranged by Richard Carpenter as a ballad, the tune is from Carpenters’ debut album Offering, which following their breakthrough was reissued internationally under the title Ticket to Ride.

In August 1970, Carpenters issued their sophomore album Close to You. Their breakthrough record surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and topped the charts in Canada. It also did well elsewhere, reaching no. 16, no. 23 and no. 53 in Australia, the UK and Japan, respectively. In no small part, this was due to the above noted hit single (They Long to Be) Close to You.

The hits kept coming on Carpenters’ eponymous third studio album from May 1971. Here’s one of my favorites: Rainy Days and Mondays. The tune was co-written in 1971 by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams. Rainy Days and Mondays was one of the record’s three singles that all topped the Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Top of the World is one of the tunes co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, who Richard had first met in 1964 in college and who had been a member of Spectrum. Interestingly, Richard who it seems to me had a great sense of songs with hit potential initially didn’t see that for Top of the World. It was only released as a single in September 1973, more than one year after the album A Song for You had come out. The country-flavored tune became one of the Carpenters’ most successful songs, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and charting in the top 40 in many other countries.

If I recall it correctly, Only Yesterday was the first Carpenters song I ever heard. It was included on some pop sampler my sister had on vinyl. Another composition by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, Only Yesterday first appeared as a single in March 1975. It also was included on Horizon, the sixth studio album by Carpenters from June 1975.

This brings me to the final song I like to highlight: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. This great ballad had first appeared on 3:47 EST, the debut album by Klaatu from August 1976. The Canadian outfit became famous after a 1977 feature story in Providence Journal started speculations Klaatu could be The Beatles or include members of the band. I did a post on the magical mystery in May 2017, which you can read here. This was a quite unusual tune for Carpenters to record, but I think they did a nice job. Their rendition was first released in September 1977 as the second single from their eighth studio album Passage that appeared two weeks thereafter.

Following is a playlist with many additional tunes by Carpenters:

Carpenters have sold more than an estimated 100 million records worldwide as of 2005, making them one of the top-selling music artists of all time. In the U.S. alone, their total sales are believed to be close to 35 million. In the UK, they are ranked as the seventh top-selling albums artist on the official record chart of the 1970s. And in Japan, the pop duo has been the third best-selling international music act behind Mariah Carey and The Beatles.

I think it’s fair to say views of Carpenters’ initial critics have evolved, which isn’t unusual. In this context, Wikipedia notes a series of documentaries in the late ’90s and early 2000s, maintaining they have led to a critical re-evaluation of the pop duo. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Carpenters no. 10 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

During an NPR segment from February 2013 in connection with the 30th anniversary of Karen Carpenter’s death, Paul McCartney called her “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” That’s certainly a bold statement, though I do agree Karen had a beautiful and distinct voice. We’ve Only Just Begun and (They Long to Be) Close to You have received Grammy Hall of Fame awards for recordings of lasting quality or historical significance.

Sources: Wikipedia; Carpenters official website; NPR; YouTube

When Two Make One

A playlist of songs by duos

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop posted about Cathy’s Clown, a great tune by The Everly Brothers. He wrote, “When Phil and Don would sing….their two voices would become one.” I couldn’t agree more! In this context, I thought about Simon & Garfunkel, another example of beautiful vocals in perfect harmony. Sometimes it takes two artists to make magic happen, not only when it comes to singing but also when creating music – a good topic for a post, I thought!

After doing a bit of research, I was quickly reminded of the large number of musical duos. The following doesn’t include one-offs. I’m also excluding songwriting partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to name a few. All of my picks were or are permanent pairings. Apart from six tracks released in different decades, which are highlighted in the upfront, I’ve included numerous additional tunes in a playlist at the end of the post.

The Everly Brothers/Wake Up Little Susie

Since this post was inspired by an Everly Brothers tune, it felt right to kick things off with a song they performed. Wake Up Little Susie, co-written by Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant, was my introduction to Don Everly and Phil Everly sometime during my teenage years back in Germany. First released as a single in September 1957, Wake Up Little Susie became their first no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream Billboard Hot 100. What a great acoustic rock & roll tune!

Simon & Garfunkel/The Sound of Silence

One of my favorite songs by Simon & Garfunkel is The Sound of Silence. Penned by Paul Simon, this gem is off their debut studio record Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. from October 1964. It was also released separately as a single in September 1965 and became their first hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in New Zealand, and reaching no. 3 in each Australia and Austria. It also charted in a few other European countries.

Hall & Oates/She’s Gone

While Daryl Hall and John Oates have written many great tunes, I’m mostly drawn to their ’70s output. Here’s She’s Gone, a track from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that appeared in November 1973. The song was also released as a single that same month and became their first charting tune in the U.S., reaching no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve always loved its great soul vibe.

Eurythmics/Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

When I think about duos and the ’80s, Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears and Eurythmics come to mind first. The first time I heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart was in 1983 when they came out with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Penned by Stewart and released in January that year, the tune became their first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada, and reached no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. While I’m generally not fond of synth pop, this is a pretty catchy tune and Annie Lenox’s voice is stunning!

Indigo Girls/Galileo

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first met in elementary school and were performing together by the time they were in high school. After going separate ways, they again found themselves studying at the same institution (Atlanta’s Emory University) in the mid-’80s and became Indigo Girls. Galileo, written by Saliers, is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage, which came out in May 1992. The tune was the first single off the record and their only top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The White Stripes/Seven Nation Army

This brings me to the present century and the last tune I’d like to call out: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Written by Jack White, it first appeared in March 2003 as the lead single of their fourth studio album Elephant released the following month. Seven Nation Army topped the Alternative Airplay chart in the U.S., making it one of the biggest hits of the duo, which also includes Meg White. I dig the song’s raw garage feel.

Last but least, here’s the above-mentioned playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

‘Tis the Season – Lighten Up!

If you’d asked me over the past couple of weeks whether I was ready for Christmas and New Year’s, most days, I would have said ‘nope’ to the former and ‘hell yes!’ to the latter. Undoubtedly, the second year of this dreadful pandemic has brought many challenges, and with omicron spreading quickly and furiously, the outlook for the near future isn’t great either. Still, while it’s always easy to find reasons to complain, I feel I really shouldn’t do it.

Instead, I should be grateful for many things I oftentimes take for granted: A loving wife and son who haven’t gotten sick; the fact thus far I’ve been able to escape the bloody virus; a roof above my head, even though we literally just needed to have it replaced, which wasn’t cheap; a job I’ve been able to do from home for the past two years; writing this blog about music, a topic I love; and so on and so forth.

As such, it’s time to stop having the blues about the inconveniences the pandemic has brought, especially missing out on live music, and to embrace the holiday season. And, yes, you guessed it, music can help. Following are some contemporary Christmas songs in different genres, including pop, rock, punk, rap, funk, classic rock & roll and even hard rock – as well as one breathtaking rendition of a traditional Christmas carol. I’m borrowing picks from a post I did four years ago. All songs are also captured in a Spotify playlist at the end.

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (1970)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

The Temptations/Silent Night

Below is the Spotify playlist. In the case of (It’s Gonna Be a) Punk Rock Christmas, the version by The Ravers wasn’t available, but I found another rendition of the song by what sounds like a female punk band, The Majorettes.

Happy Holiday Season! If you don’t celebrate Christmas and/or the New Year, I hope this won’t prevent you from having a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Hiatt Done by Others

A playlist of the singer-songwriter’s tunes covered by other artists

Lately, I’ve been getting more into John Hiatt’s music. Last week, when writing about his excellent ninth studio album Slow Turning, I noted many other artists have covered the singer-songwriter’s tunes over the decades. The man is a true goldmine! This triggered the idea for this post to look at great renditions of Hiatt songs, some of which ended up becoming hits, unlike his originals. For each pick, I’m going to feature both a cover and Hiatt’s original version. I’m also adding a playlist at the end with additional covers and originals.

B.B. King & Eric Clapton/Riding with the King

In 2000, B.B. King and Eric Clapton teamed up for a collaboration album. They cleverly named it Riding with the King, after the title track of Hiatt’s sixth studio release from 1983. Released in June 2000, King’s and Clapton’s record hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.

Bob Dylan/The Usual

Here’s a terrific Bob Dylan cover of The Usual. This is from a soundtrack of the 1987 American motion picture Hearts of Fire, in which Dylan also co-starred, alongside Fiona Flanagan and Rupert Everett. I love the soulful vibe of this version! Hiatt recorded the original for his seventh studio album Warming Up to the Ice Age that appeared in January 1985. George Thorogood and the Destroyers also did a nice cover of The Usual on their 10th studio album Rockin’ My Life Away released in March 1997. Since I couldn’t find Dylan’s rendition in Spotify, I included Thorogood’s cover in the below playlist instead.

Bonnie Raitt/Thing Called Love

I suppose one of the best-known John Hiatt renditions is Thing Called Love by Bonnie Raitt. She included the tune on her tenth studio album Nick of Time from March 1989, which after years of personal and professional struggles finally gave her commercial breakthrough and her first no. 1 album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The song’s official video featured a flirtatious Dennis Quaid. Bonnie did not seem to mind! I was actually surprised to see the song didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it reached no. 11 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Hiatt included that tune on Bring the Family, his eighth studio record that appeared in May 1987.

Delbert McClinton/Have a Little Faith in Me

Have a Little Faith in Me is one of the most beautiful John Hiatt songs I know. Like Thing Called Love, it appeared on Bring the Family. Delbert McClinton included a great cover on his studio album from April 1992, titled Never Been Rocked Enough. This is just neat!

Emmylou Harris/Icy Blue Heart

The last tune I’d like to highlight in this post is Icy Blue Heart, a powerful track off Hiatt’s above noted Slow Turning album from August 1988. Emmylou Harris recorded a beautiful cover for her 15th studio album Bluebird released in January 1989. It features Bonnie Raitt on background vocals – what an amazing pairing! Frankly, Harris’ angelic voice can make me well up. I also love how her vocals bend with Bonnie’s. This is just stunning!

The below playlist includes some additional Hiatt covers by Aaron Neville (It Feels Like Rain), Iggy Pop (Something Wild), Linda Ronstadt (When We Ran), Willie Nelson (The Most Unoriginal Sin) and Jimmy Buffett (The Tiki Bar is Open). Hope you enjoy it as much, as I did putting together this post and playlist. And, as always, feel free to comment, especially if I missed your favorite John Hiatt cover!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube