A First Glance at Albums Hitting the Big 50 This Year

With a new year upon us, I thought this would be a good opportunity to preview albums that are turning 50 in 2023. Taking a closer look quickly confirmed my expectation that 1973 was yet another great year in music. Based on Wikipedia, I came up with an initial list of 40 records released that year. I’m going to touch on six of them. A Spotify playlist at the end features songs from those albums, as well as one tune from each of the remaining 34 records.

Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon (March 1, 1973)

Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album The Dark Side of the Moon remains among my favorites by the English rock band. Released in March 1973, it was primarily developed during live performances and premiered before the recording sessions began. In fact, as reported by Variety and other music outlets, last month, Pink Floyd quietly released 18 of these concerts on streaming services before the recordings hit 50 years and would have lost copyright protection. The Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album around themes like conflict, greed, time, death and mental illness, is Floyd’s best-selling record and one of the most critically acclaimed albums in music history. Here is Time, with lyrics by Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and the music credited to all members of the band, who also included David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion).

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy (July 1973)

Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown to Ecstasy, released in July 1973, was recorded when they were still a standing band. In addition to masterminds Donald Fagen (acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizer, lead and backing vocals) and Walter Becker (electric bass, harmonica, backing vocals), the line-up featured Denny Dias (electric guitar), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (electric and pedal steel guitars) and Jim Hodder (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Countdown to Ecstasy followed the departure of David Palmer and was the group’s first album where Fagen sang lead on every song. After their third record Pretzel Logic, Fagen and Becker turned Steely Dan largely into a studio project, relying on top-notch session musicians. One of my favorite tracks on Countdown to Ecstasy is My Old School, which like all other tunes was co-written by Becker and Fagen. Baxter’s guitar work shines and is among his best.

Stevie WonderInnervisions (August 3, 1973)

Innervisions, Stevie Wonder’s 16th studio album released in August 1973, is part of his so-called classic period, which spans six records, bookended by Music of My Mind (March 1972) and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” (October 1979). Following his 21st birthday on May 13, 1971, Wonder allowed his contract with Motown to expire. He returned to the Detroit label with Music of My Mind and a much more lucrative contract that also freed him from the artistic straitjacket of the past. Wonder’s lyrics changed and started to explore social and political topics in addition to standard romantic themes. Musically, he began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself. Innervisions and the excellent Living for the City perfectly illustrate these changes.

Lynyrd Skynyrd(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (August 13, 1973)

August 1973 also saw the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). And what a debut it was, featuring classics like Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and the epic Free Bird. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it, based on the album’s relatively moderate chart performance when it came out. In the U.S., it reached no. 27 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 20 in Switzerland, no. 44 in the UK and no. 47 in Canada. But over time, the picture looks better. As of July 1987, it was certified 2X Platinum in the U.S. The album also made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was ranked at no. 381 in the most recent revision from 2020. Here’s the aforementioned Free Bird, co-written by the group’s original lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins.

Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 5, 1973)

Elton John truly ruled during the first part of the ’70s. With Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a double LP and his seventh studio album, he scored his third of six consecutive chart-toppers in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Australia. It spawned four singles, which charted in different countries. In the U.S., Bennie and the Jets became John’s second no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, while the title track topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand. I decided to highlight the magnificent opening medley of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. As usual, John wrote the music to lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. What an opus!

Paul McCartney and WingsBand on the Run (December 5, 1973)

The final album I’d like to call out here is what I consider the Mount Rushmore of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles period: Band on the Run, his fifth after the break-up of The Fab Four and the third with Wings. By the time recording in Lagos, Nigeria began, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough had departed. This left Wings as a trio, which in addition to McCartney included his wife Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. As such, Paul ended up playing bass, drums, percussion and most of the lead guitar parts, with Laine providing guitars and Linda keyboards. Both also sang backing and harmony vocals. After recording the majority of the album’s basic tracks and some overdubbing in Lagos under difficult conditions, Wings returned to England and finished the album in George Martin’s AIR Studios in London. After initial modest sales, Band on the Run became the top-selling studio album of 1974 in the UK. More importantly, it revitalized the critical standing of Paul McCartney whose earlier post-Beatles records had received a mixed reception. Band on the Run’s opener and title track, credited to Paul and Linda, is a longtime favorite of mine.

I’m planning dedicated posts on each of the above albums and possibly others released in 1973, timed to their respective 50th anniversaries. Last but not least, here’s the above-noted Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Variety; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book Turns 50

On October 27, 1972, Stevie Wonder released his 15th studio album Talking Book. While I missed the actual anniversary date, I did not want to skip this milestone. Not only does Talking Book represent a gem in Wonder’s long music catalog and marked the beginning of his “classic period”, but it also was an artistic turning point. This post borrows from a previous review of the album I published in May 2017.

Even though Stevie Wonder was only 22 years when he recorded Talking Book, he already had a 10-year recording career under his belt. Remarkably, he took the bold step to abandon the Motown template of radio-friendly songs that had brought him fame. As reported in this excellent NPR segment from 2000, the album proved his independence as an artist, his first real growth as a boy becoming a man…making all of the artistic decisions himself and relying less on Motown head Berry Gordy for direction.

The sound of Talking Book was largely shaped by Wonder’s keyboard work, especially his use of synthesizers. “I felt that the Moog synthesizer enabled me to reshape the oscillator, having control of the ataxias and sustained release,” Wonder explained to NPR. “I was able to really create various sounds, bass sounds and was able to bend notes the way that I heard them being bent, create different sounds of horns, string sounds and string lines and really arrange them in the way that I felt I wanted them to sound.”

A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder played most of the instruments himself, including drums, Fender Rhoades; Clavinet; Moog bass synthesizer; T.O.N.T.O., a massive multi-module synthesizer, and harmonica. Notable guest musicians included Jeff Beck (electric guitar), Buzz Feiten (electric guitar), Ray Parker Jr. (electric guitar) and David Sanborn (alto saxophone).

For the most part, the lyrics on Talking Book deal with love and heartbreak. A notable exception is Big Brother, where Wonder followed contemporary artists like Marvin GaveCurtis Mayfield and James Brown with socially conscious lyrics – an approach he would further embrace on his next studio album  Innervisions with songs like Too High and Living For the City.

Let’s get to some music with the beautiful opener of side one (speaking in vinyl terms), You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Wonder’s Fender Rhoades electric piano and the congas played by Daniel Ben Zebulon give this beautiful mid-tempo ballad a very relaxed feel. Wonder got some support on vocals from singers Jim GilstrapLani Groves and Gloria Barley. The tune became the album’s second single and Wonder’s third no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In March 1974, it also won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Next up is You and I (We Can Conquer the World), another love song. In addition to singing lead vocals, Wonder played all instruments, including piano, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer and Moog bass. The tune has been covered by multiple other artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker and Macy Gray. According to Songfacts, it also holds the distinction of having served as the wedding song for former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who are both huge Stevie Wonder fans.

Side two of Talking Book starts off with what became Wonder’s second U.S. no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a signature tune: Superstition. That said, the album’s lead single ruffled some feathers. Jeff Beck who participated in the recording sessions for Talking Book came up with the opening drum beat. Wonder improvised the guitar-like riff, playing a Hohner Clavinet. They created a rough demo of the tune with the idea that Beck would record the song for his next album. However, by the time Beck did so, Wonder had recorded the tune for Talking Book, and at the insistence of Berry Gordy who saw a hit, it had been released as a single. In addition to Wonder (lead vocals, Clavinet, drums, Moog bass), the recording featured Trevor Lawrence (tenor saxophone) and Steve Madaio (trumpet). Apparently, Beck wasn’t happy and made some comments to the press Wonder didn’t appreciate. Eventually, he released his version of  Superstition on his 1973 eponymous debut album with Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Here is the above-mentioned Big Brother. It’s another tune entirely performed by Wonder (lead vocals, Clavinet, drums/percussion, harmonica, Moog bass). An excerpt from the lyrics: …Your name is big brother/You say that you got me all in your notebook/Writing it down everyday/Your name is I’ll see ya’ (Your name is I’ll see ya’)/I’ll change if you vote me in as the Pres’/ President of your soul/I live in the ghetto/You just come to visit me ’round election time…

The last track I’d like to call out is I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever), one of two tunes on Talking Book Wonder co-wrote with Yvonne Wright, a frequent collaborator for various of his other ’70s albums. Once again, it was solely performed by Wonder who in addition to singing lead and background vocals played piano, Clavinet, drums and Moog bass. The tune has been covered by Art Garfunkel, George Michael and British female vocal duo E’voke, among others.

Talking Book was produced by Wonder with some help from Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, with whom he had also worked on his preceding album  Music of My Mind. Following is a Spotify link to the album.

Talking Book became a major chart success, especially in the U.S. where it climbed to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was Wonder’s first album to top the R&B chart. Elsewhere, it reached no. 12 in Canada, no. 16 in the UK, no. 24 in Norway and no. 34 in Australia. The record was also well-received by critics. In a review at the time, Rolling Stone’s Vince Aletti called it, “an exceptional, exciting album, the work of a now quite matured genius and, with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On (an answer album?) and Wonder’s own Music of My Mind, one of the most impressive recent records from a black popular performer.” AllMusic’s John Bush characterized the album as “a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances.”

In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Talking Book at no. 90 in its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the most recent 2020 revision, it moved up to no. 59. The album was also voted no. 322 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Sources: Wikipedia; NPR; Songfacts; Rolling Stone, AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Caravanserai Is Another ’70s Gem Hitting the Big 50

Santana’s fourth studio album marked a radical departure from successful Latin rock formula

Today, on October 11, 1972, Santana released their fourth studio album Caravanserai. While it’s a gem and did pretty well at the time, looking at it from today’s perspective, one has to say Carlos Santana made a gutsy decision to abandon a Latin rock formula that had generated three high-selling and high-charting albums and various hit singles, such as Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Oye Cómo Va and Everybody’s Everything. Most of all, it was bloody good music! But many great artists don’t rest on their laurels.

According to an AllMusic review of the album, Carlos Santana was “obviously very hip to jazz fusion”. It’s also fair to say that with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, jazz fusion had emerged as a new music genre that was getting some attention. But Columbia Records president Clive Davis wasn’t convinced. Reportedly, he called Caravanserai “career suicide” after his first listening to the album, which is largely instrumental and blends jazz, rock and Latin. An October 2018 post on The Music Aficionado blog does a terrific job telling the story behind Caravanserai in great detail. This post informs part of my review.

Apparently, Santana drummer and jazz lover Michael Shrieve who also co-produced Caravanserai had a major influence on Carlos Santana. He introduced him to artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Shrieve and Santana were also inspired by other artists like Pharoah Sanders, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alice Coltrane and Weather Report. The Music Aficionado quotes Carlos: “We were looking for our identities in the same places with a spirit of exploration and the courage to try something new, even if it didn’t make sense or we weren’t supposed to do it. Caravanserai was the album we weren’t supposed to do.”

Another important influence that helped shape the sound of Caravanserai were changes in the Santana band. By the time they went into the studio to start work on the album, Michael Carabello (percussion) and David Brown (bass) had been replaced by James Mingo Lewis and Dough Rauch, respectively. Gregg Rolie (organ, piano, vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) were on the album, but by the end of the recording sessions, they also had left. Subsequently, together with members of Steve Miller Band and Frumious Bandersnatch, Rolie and Schon co-founded backing band Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the group that became Journey.

I’d say let’s take a look at some tunes. One of my favorite tracks on Side one is Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down), co-written by Rauch, Rolie and Santana. To me, the standout here is Dough Rauch’s funky bass playing. Carlos Santana: “You can hear what he brought to All the Love of the Universe and Look Up (to See What’s Coming Down) – when we heard those tracks, we realized how much we needed Dougie”. The Music Aficionado also quotes Shrieve saying Rauch was one of the first bassists “to play with the thumb and popping technique that was later made famous by Larry Graham [Sly and the Family StoneCMM] and Stanley Clarke [Return to ForeverCMM].”

Another gem on Side A I’d like to highlight is Song of the Wind. The beautiful instrumental, credited to Rolie, Santana and Schon, for the most part, is a guitar duet between Santana and Schon where they each trade beautiful melodic solos. Citing Santana’s memoir, The Music Aficionado quotes him on Rolie’s contribution: “To this day I listen to Song of the Wind and break down inside hearing Gregg’s playing on that one – no solo, just a simple supportive organ part that is not flashy or anything but supremely important to that song.”

Closing out Side one is the great All the Love of the Universe. Co-written by Santana and Schon, it’s one of the album’s three tracks with vocals. Vocals are provided by Santana, Mingo Lewis and Rico Reyes. The song is another showcase of Rauch’s outstanding bass playing.

On to Side two and Stone Flower. The tune was written as an instrumental by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Santana added lyrics written by Shrieve who provided vocals together with Carlos. The Music Aficionado also rightfully calls out the contributions of Tom Rutley (acoustic bass) and Wendy Haas (electric piano).

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the closer Every Step of the Way. Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, the instrumental is the longest track on Caravanserai. According to The Music Aficionado, it’s Carlos Santana’s favorite tune on the album. Quoting Carlos from his biography The Universal Tone: “For two reasons my favorite song on Caravanserai is Every Step of the Way – first because it sounds like what we really loved back then: Herbie Hancock’s Crossings [Hancock’s 10th album released in May 1972 – CMM]. The song also reminds me of Shrieve because he wrote it and because of how we played together.”

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

Caravanserai performed surprisingly well. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. In the UK, it reached no. 6, notably matching its predecessor Santana III. Caravanserai did best in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it climbed no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia. In addition, the album also became a solid seller, reaching Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold in each Canada and France. Caravanserai was also voted no. 609 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Long before I heard this album for the first time, I had listened to and really come to dig Santana’s first three records. Undoubtedly, Caravanserai is very different from the classic Santana sound. As such, the album was an acquired taste, which got better every time I listened to it. If you are where I was initially, I’d say give it a few more spins. You might come to love it as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The Music Aficionado blog; YouTube; Spotify

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

At 79, Jagger still can’t get no satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

Super Fly at 50 Still Sounds Mighty Cool

“Fly”, other than an insect that can be annoying, means “unusual and exceptional, particularly when it comes to fashion,” Songfacts explains. “Super Fly” is even better. It refers to the flashy clothes cocaine dealer Youngblood Priest was wearing in the 1972 U.S. blaxploitation neo-noir crime drama picture of the same name, starring Ron O’Neal as the aforementioned pusherman. Super Fly is also the title of the soundtrack, which was released today 50 years ago as the third studio album by Curtis Mayfield, an artist I’ve loved for many years.

To say it upfront, other than a couple of clips, I haven’t watched the picture. Based on what I’ve read, it seems to take a rather ambiguous stance when it comes to drug dealers. While Mayfield wrote the score for the film, his socially aware lyrics look more critical, though he also appeared to have some sympathy for the main character Priest who yearns to go straight, despite the fortune he makes from dealing drugs.

Along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Super Fly is considered a pioneering soul concept album, addressing poverty, crime and drug use in America’s inner cities of the early ’70s. Notably, just like they did with Gaye’s album, record executives didn’t think Mayfield’s soundtrack would fly. It turned out they were wrong again. Not only was Super Fly a near-immediate hit, but it also holds the distinction to be among a handful of soundtracks that out-grossed the companion movie.

For those of you who know me, it won’t come as a big surprise that my main interest in Super Fly is the music. And there’s some pretty cool funk as well as psychedelic and progressive soul on this album. Let’s take a closer look at some of the tracks, which were all written by Mayfield.

The album opens with Little Child Runnin’ Wild. The groove immediately draws you in. All it takes are a few words to paint a powerful picture. An excerpt: Little child/Runnin’ wild/Watch a while/You see he never smiles//Broken home/Father gone/Mama tired/So he’s all alone…

The title of Pusherman is self-explanatory. Songfacts notes Mayfield takes an observer’s view on this song, refraining from judgment and showing the pusherman from the perspective of a potential client. To a kid on the street, the drug dealer shows up everywhere, and can take on many forms: mother, father, doctor, friend. Said Mayfield: “The first thing I wanted to do was not condone what was going down, but understand it, and speak in terms of how one can keep from getting locked into these things which youngsters and a lot of people see all around them.” And there’s of course more of that seductive wah-wah guitar-driven funky groove!

Freddie’s Dead became the album’s first single. It peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart and reached no. 4 on the mainstream Hot 100. So much for smart forecasts by record executives!

I’m three clips into this review, and I haven’t even touched any track from Side two – speaking in vinyl terms here! Okay, let’s give a listen to Give Me Your Love (Love Song), the first song on Side two. I will say stylistically, there’s not much variation in the music. Since I dig Mayfield’s groove that’s not a problem for me!

Obviously, this post wouldn’t be complete without the amazing title track. Super Fly was also released separately as the album’s second single in October 1972. It became another U.S. hit for Mayfield. It came close to the first single’s chart success, climbing to no. 8 and no. 3 on Billboard’s mainstream and R&B charts, respectively. Super Fly’s lead character appealed to Mayfield because he had a vivid backstory and was not just a stock drug dealer, Songfacts explains. In the song, Mayfield examines how he’s really doing what we all are: trying to get over...“We couldn’t be so proud of him dealing coke or using coke, but at least the man had a mind and he wasn’t just some ugly dead something in the streets after it was all over,” Mayfield told Q magazine. “He got out.”

Super Fly was well received by music critics. Even Robert Christgau gave it an A- in a contemporary review for The Village Voice at the time, praising Mayfield’s songwriting. Jeez, what was wrong with him? The album became Mayfield’s only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and his highest-charting record in the UK where it reached no. 26, though interestingly, none of the singles charted there. Within only two months, Super Fly got Gold status in the U.S., meaning it had reached 0.5 million sold units, as certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Super Fly was ranked at no. 69 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the magazine’s most recent 2020 revision, it remained within the top 100, coming in at no. 76. In 2019, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In addition, the title track is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; RIAA website; YouTube; Spotify

Peace and Love and Many Happy Returns!

At 82 Ringo Starr remains full of energy and a true inspiration

Today, Ringo Starr has turned 82 years young. I say “young” even though he’s not just seventeen, you know what I mean. But while the man may be an octogenarian, to me, he remains young at heart and full of amazing energy. I can tell you one thing: If I make it to 82, I’d be happy to have 50% of Ringo’s vitality!

I also like Ringo’s simple message of peace and love. During a time of significant change and deep division in this country and when much of the rest of the planet is pretty messed up as well, we need peace and love more than ever. Yes, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

As Ringo usually does, today, he’s celebrating his birthday and peace and love message with a little help from his friends. According to a recent statement on Ringo’s website, he and his wife Barbara Starkey will be joined…by family and friends, including current All Starrs Steve Lukather, Edgar Winter, Colin Hay, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette, as well as friends Benmont Tench, Jim Keltner, Richard Marx, Matt Sorum, Ed Begley Jr, Linda Perry, Diane Warren, Roy Jr and Alex Orbison.

They will gather together in Los Angeles for Ringo’s annual Peace & Love Birthday event, and at Noon give the traditional “Peace and Love” exclamation. This year Artemis Music Space Network, through the International Space Station (ISS) will amplify that message not only to the entire planet but up into Earth’s orbit and to the stars. That’s certainly a remarkable effort!

I’d like to acknowledge today’s happy occasion by celebrating Ringo’s music, borrowing from a post I published a year ago. I’m adding a Spotify playlist at the end.

It Don’t Come Easy – non-album single, April 1971

PhotographRingo, November 1973

No No SongGoodnight Vienna, November 1974

Wrack My BrainStop and Smell the Roses, October 1981

In My CarOld Wave, June 1983

Drift Away (featuring Tom Petty, Steven Tyler and Alanis Morissette) – Vertical Man, June 1998

Walk With You (duet with Paul McCartney) – Y Not, January 2010

Postcards From ParadisePostcards From Paradise, March 2015

We’re on the Road AgainGive More Love, September 2017

Let’s Change the WorldChange the World (EP), September 2021

Here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist, which includes both the above tunes, as well as some additional songs.

And, remember, wherever you are at noon today, Peace and Love!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ringo Starr website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 5

It’s been four and a half months since the last installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History, a feature that has appeared irregularly since the very early days of the blog. What tends to happen is I remember the feature, do a few installments based on dates I haven’t covered yet, and then it kind of drops off the radar screen again.

Whenever I come back to it, usually, I find it intriguing what turns up by looking at a specific date throughout music history. Typically, my time period of reference for these posts are the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Without further ado, following are some of the events that happened on July 5.

1954: Elvis Presley recorded his first single That’s All Right at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. The song was written by blues singer Arthur Crudup who also first recorded it in 1946. Some of the lyrics were traditional blues verses Crudup took from Blind Lemon Jefferson, recorded in 1926. Presley’s cover of That’s All Right came together spontaneously when during a break in the studio Elvis started to play an uptempo version of Crudup’s song on guitar. Bill Black joined in on string bass and they were soon joined by Scotty Moore on lead guitar. When producer Sam Phillips heard them play, wisely, he asked them to start over, so he could record. That’s All Right appeared on July 19, 1954, with Blue Moon of Kentucky as the B-side. While the tune gained local popularity and reached no. 4 on the Memphis charts, it missed the national charts.

1966: Chas Chandler, who at the time was the bassist for The Animals, saw Jimi Hendrix for the first time at Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, New York City. He was awestruck by the 23-year-old guitarist’s performance. Hendrix was playing with a band and they called themselves Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. One of the songs Hendrix performed that day was Hey Joe. Coincidentally, When Chandler had heard a version of the tune by folk singer Tim Rose a few days earlier and immediately was determined to find an artist to record it after his return to England. Shortly after the Café Wha? gig, Chandler became Hendrix’s manager and producer and took the guitarist to London. Chandler brought Hendrix together with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. They became the Jimi Hendrix Experience, recorded Hey Joe and released the tune as their first single in December of the same year. And the rest is history.

1969: The Who released I’m Free, the second single from Tommy, their fourth studio album. Like most of the rock opera album, the tune was written by Pete Townshend. Backed by We’re Not Gonna Take It, the single didn’t chart in the UK. In the U.S., it reached no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did best in Germany and the Netherlands where it climbed to no. 18 and no. 20, respectively. The relatively moderate performance is remarkable for a tune that is one of the best-known tracks from the album. Townshend has said the song was in part inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man.

1974: Linda Ronstadt recorded You’re No Good at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles, working with renowned producer Peter Asher. Written by Clint Ballard Jr., You’re No Good was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Ronstadt’s rendition became her breakthrough hit and the most successful version, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 7 on the Canadian mainstream chart. Elsewhere it climbed to no. 15, no. 17 and no. 24 in Australia, The Netherlands and New Zealand, respectively. You’re No Good actually also turned out to be, well, pretty good for Heart Like a Wheel, helping Ronstadt’s fifth solo record to become her first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200.

1981: A performance of The Cure at the annual Rock Werchter in Belgium was cut short when the English gothic rock and new wave band was told they had to wrap up so Robert Palmer could begin his set. “This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ’cause everybody wants to see Robert Palmer,” Cure vocalist Robert Smith told the crowd before the band defiantly launched into an extended 9-minute version of A Forest. While they were wrapping up, bassist Simon Gallup grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck Rock and Roll!” Apparently, the festival organizers forgave The Cure who returned several times in subsequent years. By contrast, Robert Palmer’s 1981 performance at Rock Werchter remained his only appearance at the festival.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

They Say It’s Your Birthday

At 80 years, Paul McCartney remains an artist full of energy who still gets a kick on stage

Two days ago, I saw Paul McCartney at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey where he wrapped up his North American Got Back Tour. It’s hard to believe today is Sir Paul’s 80th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I’m republishing a post I did for Paul’s birthday last year. It has been slightly edited and the Spotify playlist at the end is an addition. The next installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music, will run on Monday.

You say it’s your birthday

...Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party

Things We Said Today (1964)

A song from The Beatles era I’ve always loved, which appeared on the U.K. version of the A Hard Day’s Night album released in July 1964 but wasn’t part of the movie soundtrack. According to The Beatles Bible, McCartney wrote this tune on a yacht in the Virgin Islands in May 1964, where he vacationed with his girlfriend Jane Asher, as well as Ringo Starr and his future first wife Maureen Cox.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The title track and a Macca tune from my favorite Beatles album on most days, which was released in May 1967. The idea of the song and the entire album of an alter-ego band that would perform before an audience came to McCartney in November 1966 on a flight from Nairobi back to England.

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

The highlight of McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. Written in 1969, the tune is about his first wife Linda McCartney (née Eastman). Linda who passed away from breast cancer in 1998 undoubtedly had an enormous impact on Paul. Instead of picking the studio track, I’m cheating a bit here and feature what I feel is a superior version that appeared on the great Wings Over America live album from December 1976.

Band on the Run (1973)

The title track from what I think is the Mount Rushmore of Macca’s solo period, released in December 1973. The tune was McCartney’s response to drug laws he believed unfairly criminalized him and his friends. Noting the latter included the Eagles and The Byrds, Songfacts quotes Macca as follows: “We’re not criminals… We just would rather do this than hit the booze – which had been a traditional way to do it. We felt that this was a better move.”

Letting Go (1975)

A nice rocker from Venus and Mars, McCartney’s fourth studio album with Wings, which came out in May 1975. Letting Go is another tune about Linda McCartney, a reflection on Paul’s relationship with her and that she deserved more freedom to pursue her own interests after she had given up her photography career. Linda received a co-credit for the song.

Here Today (1982)

A moving tribute to John Lennon Macca wrote wrote in the wake of Lennon’s senseless murder in December 1980. It appeared on McCartney’s third solo studio album Tug of War from April 1982, another gem from his solo catalog I previously covered here. This song can still make me well up!

Fine Line (2005)

Time to continue the party by jumping to the current century. Fine Line is the opener to Macca’s 13th solo album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard from October 2005. It’s a great piano-driven pop song that also showcases the multi-instrumental talents of Sir Paul. In addition to piano and vocals, he provided guitar, bass and drums – pretty much the track’s entire instrumentation, except for the strings that were played by London-based session players Millennia Ensemble.

I Don’t Know (2018)

A beautiful piano ballad from Egypt Station, McCartney’s 17th solo studio effort from September 2018 – a late career gem in his solo catalog, in my opinion! You can read more about it here. Yes, Paul’s voice is clearly showing some wear and tear, but I think it works very well for this and the other tracks on the album.

Lavatory Lil (2020)

A nice rocker from McCartney III, which is yet another intriguing late-career release in my book. I would also say it’s the charm of Macca’s three DIY home-made albums, as I previously wrote here. Check out the cool descending bass line of Lavatory Lil.

Birthday (1968)

A birthday celebration calls for a birthday song, so I’d like to wrap up this post with exactly that. Conveniently, Sir Paul also wrote the perfect tune for the occasion. It first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968 as the opener to side three (speaking in vinyl terms here!). Instead of picking the original studio track, let’s up the fun with a live version captured during a performance at New York’s Grand Central Station in September 2018 to celebrate the release of the above-noted Egypt Station album. It’s just great to see how much fun Macca continues to have when performing in front of an audience.

I would like you to dance, birthday

Rock on, Paul, and here’s to good health and many more years to come!

Following is a Spotify playlist with the above and some other tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube