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

Elton John’s Honky Château at 50 Remains a Classic

While I know a good number of Elton John songs from throughout his 50-plus-year recording career, I cannot make that claim when it comes to his 30 studio albums. So why pick Honky Château to highlight in a post? Well, to start with, it includes Rocket Man, one of my all-time favorite tunes by John. I’ve also always dug Honky Cat. But the main reason for writing about Honky Château again today is the album’s 50th anniversary, another 1972 classic to hit the big milestone.*

Released on May 19, 1972, and named after Château d’Hérouville, an 18th-century French castle where it was recorded, Elton John’s fifth studio album is a gem that definitely has more to offer than the above-noted tunes. Moreover, it’s a significant album in his recording career. Honky Château became John’s first of seven consecutive no. 1 records in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. It also performed very well elsewhere: No. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Canada and no. 4 in Australia, to name a few countries where it charted. John truly ruled during the first half of the ’70s!

Honky Château also marked the first record to feature core members of John’s road band: David Johnstone (acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). Murray and Olsson had joined John’s touring band from The Spencer Davis Group. Johnstone, a session musician, had first played with John on predecessor Madman Across the Water from November 1971. He pretty much has been with John ever since. Johnstone, Murray and Olsson became instrumental in shaping Elton John’s sound during the ’70s.

Let’s get to some music, and what better way to start than with the opener  Honky Cat. Like all other songs on the record, the music was composed by John with lyrics from his long-time partner in crime Bernie Taupin. I always liked the tune’s New Orleans vibe. The brass section, which was arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon, featured Jacques Bolognesi  (trombone), Ivan Jullien (trumpet), as well as saxophonists Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain HatotHonky Cat also appeared separately as the album’s second single in July 1972, backed by Slave.

I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself has some of Honky Cat’s New Orleans vibe as well. According to Songfacts, John said the song about a moody teenager’s suicide thoughts isn’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not sure a tune like this could be released today without causing controversy. Of course, the times they are a-changin’, and you could make the same observation for other ’70s tunes. The tap-dancing routine was performed by “Legs” Larry Smith, the former drummer of the comedy satirical rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Smith was friends with George Harrison who would include a tribute song about him, His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen), on his 1975 studio album Extra Texture (Read All About It).

Closing out Side 1 is the majestic Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), as it’s officially titled. Not surprisingly, the tale about a Mars-bound astronaut’s mixed feelings about leaving his family behind to carry out his mission became the album’s big hit. Separately released as the lead single in April 1972, backed by Susie (Dramas), it rose all the way to no. 2 in the UK and reached no. 6 in the U.S. Rocket Man also was a hit in various other countries, including Canada (no. 8), Germany (no. 18), Ireland (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 11). It truly is a timeless classic!

Side 2 opens with Salvation. There isn’t much to say about this tune other than it’s the kind of ballad John excelled at in the ’70s, in my view.

Amy is another nice tune on Side 2. The song about young lust has a great groove. It features French jazz violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Honky Château’s closer Hercules. Initial plans to make Hercules the album’s third single did not materialize. While I haven’t read this anywhere, I’m wondering whether there may have been concerns it could have interfered with Crocodile Rock. One of John’s biggest hits, it was released in October 1972 as the lead single for his next studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album.

Honky Château was generally well received by music critics at the time and is regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums. In October 1995, the record was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America  (RIAA), meaning it had reached certified sales of one million units.

In 2003, Honky Château was ranked at no. 357 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a position that remained nearly unchanged (no. 359) in the 2012 list. Interestingly, the album moved up by more than 100 spots to no. 251 in the list’s most recent revision from September 2020.

* This post was originally published on May 31, 2021. It has been slightly updated.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Another Rolling Stones Classic Hits Big Milestone

Exile On Main St. Turns 50

Today 50 years ago, The Rolling Stones released what many of their fans consider one of their best albums. While my no. 1 Stones album remains their 1971 predecessor Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St. has substantially grown on me over time, and I would now put it on my top 3, together with the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!

Exile On Main St. took a significant amount of time to make. It seems to me the fact it came to fruition at all bordered on a near-miracle. Work on the album started in England in 1969 during the Sticky Fingers recording sessions. Many of the tracks were recorded at Olympic Studios in London and Mick Jagger’s country house Stargroves.

By the spring of 1971, the Stones found themselves as tax refugees from the British government. Jagger moved to Paris with his new wife Bianca, Keith Richards rented Nellcôte, a 16-room mansion on the Côte d’Azur in Southern France, while the other members of the band settled in Southern France as well. Since the Stones couldn’t find a suitable studio to continue work on the album, they ended up using Richard’s basement at Nellcôte and the group’s mobile recording truck.

The work at Nellcôte was very different compared to previous albums. Richards had begun using heroin daily, which frequently prevented him from attending sessions. Jagger and bassist Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well. Time and again, this forced the band to record in altered forms. In addition to Jagger, Richards and Wyman, guitarist Mick Taylor, drummer Charlie Watts, keyboarder Nicky Hopkins, saxophonist Bobby Keys and producer Jimmy Miller, a capable drummer who filled in for Watts on a couple of tunes, participated in the Nellcôte sessions.

The basic tracks that were recorded at Nellcôte were subsequently taken to Sunset Sound Recorders studio in Los Angeles where vocal and instrumental overdubs were added between December 1971 and March 1972. This second stage of the recording included keyboarders Billy Preston and Dr. John, along with top-notch session vocalists. Unlike in France where he was often MIA, Mick Jagger took charge during the LA sessions.

In spite of what looks like a chaotic process, especially during the first stage in Southern France, the outcome was pretty remarkable. I’d say it’s time for some music. In its original configuration, Exile On Main St. is a double-LP album. I’m going to feature one track from each side. A Spotify link to the entire album is included at the end of this post.

Let’s kick things off with Rip This Joint, the second track on side one. Like all other songs, the uptempo rocker is credited to Jagger and Richards. Wikipedia notes it’s one of the fastest songs in the Stones’ catalog. It became a concert staple between the early to mid-’70s before it disappeared from the Stones’ setlists completely until the mid-’90s.

And we’re on to side two and the first track Sweet Virginia, one of the Stones’ country-influenced tunes. Among others, the song features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, according to Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.”

This next tune always makes me, well, Happy. The first track on side three features Richards on lead vocals. It also was the Stones’ first such song to chart. It did best in France where it climbed to no. 5. In Canada, it reached no. 9. In the UK, it missed the charts. Perhaps folks there weren’t happy about the group’s tax refugee status. “It just came, tripping off the tongue, then and there [at NellcôteCMM],” Richards said per Songfacts, citing his 2010 autobiography, Life. “…There has to be some thin plot line, although in a lot of my songs you’d be very hard-pressed to find it. But here, you’re broke and it’s evening. And you want to go out, but you ain’t got s–t. I’m busted before I start. I need a love to keep me happy, because if it’s real love it will be free!” Got it? Now you know how to write a great song!

The final tune I’d like to call out is Shine a Light, the second-to-last track on side four. The song’s original lyrics date back to 1968 when Jagger wrote a song titled Get a Line On You about then-Stones guitarist Brian Jones and his drug addiction. After Jones’ untimely death in July 1969 at age 27, Jagger changed some of the tune’s lyrics and the title. Shine a Light features Billy Preston on piano and organ. It also became the name of a 2008 Stones concert documentary by Martin Scorsese.

When Exile on Main St. originally came out, critics had mixed feelings about it. But as isn’t uncommon, sentiments subsequently changed and the album has since been regarded by many critics as The Rolling Stones’ best work. I’m sometimes a bit puzzled how drastically opinions can change. Rolling Stone ranked Exile on Main St. at no. 7 on their 2003 and 2012 lists of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the 2020 revision, the album held up pretty well at no. 14, making it the Stones’ highest-ranked album on the list. In 2012, Exile on Main St. became the fourth Stones album to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Exile on Main St. is among the Stones’ best-performing records. It topped the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, and climbed to no. 2 in Australia and Germany. The album also received Platinum certification in Great Britain, the US and Australia.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 15

Today in my recurring music history feature I’d like to take a look at select events that happened on February 15. And, as oftentimes is the case, it all starts with this band from Liverpool, England.

1965: The Beatles released Eight Days a Week as a single in the U.S., backed by I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party. The song had first appeared on the UK album Beatles for Sale that had come out on December 4, 1964. It was also included on the U.S. album Beatles VI released on June 14, 1965. According to Songfacts, most of the tune was written by Paul McCartney, though as usual, it was credited to John Lennon and him. Unlike the usual arrangement where whoever of the two wrote most of the song would sing lead, John ended up taking over lead vocals here. Songfacts also maintains Eight Days a Week was the first pop song that fades up from silence. The tune became the seventh no. 1 Beatles single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip with footage around their legendary August 1965 performance at New York City’s Shea Stadium.

1969: Sly and the Family Stone hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Everyday People, their first of three chart-topping hits on the U.S. mainstream chart. Written by Sly Stone, the song had first appeared as a single in November 1968. It was also included on the psychedelic soul and funk group’s fourth studio album Stand!, released in May 1969. Songfacts notes the tune is about how everyone is essentially the same, regardless of race or background, adding, Sly & the Family Stone was a mash-up of musical styles, with band members of different genders and ethnic backgrounds. It also states Billy Preston played keyboards on the recording.

1975: Linda Ronstadt reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with You’re No Good. While between 1967 and 2006 she scored 20 top 40 hits on the U.S. mainstream chart, You’re No Good was her only no. 1. Written by Clint Ballard Jr., the tune was first recorded and released in 1963 by American soul singer Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of Dionne Warwick. You’re No Good has been covered by numerous other very different artists like The Swinging Blue Jeans, Elvis Costello, Ike & Tina Turner and Van Halen. Remarkably, You’re No Good’s chart-topping position coincided with Heart Like a Wheel, the album on which the tune appeared, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard 200. It became the first of three no. 1 records for Ronstadt on that chart.

1979: The Bee Gees ruled the 21st Annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack won Album of the Year, and the Bee Gees won Best Vocal Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for Saturday Night Fever and Best Arrangement for Voices for Stayin’ Alive. Billy Joel and Donna Summer had a good night as well. The piano man scored Record of the Year and Song of the Year for Just the Way You Are. The tune is from Joel’s fifth studio album The Stranger that came out in September 1977 and also appeared separately as a single at that time. Summer won two Grammys for Last Dance: Best R&B Vocal and Best R&B Song.

1980: Elvis Costello released his fourth studio album Get Happy!!, the third with his backing band The Attractions. Wikipedia notes the record marked “a dramatic break in tone from Costello’s three previous albums, and for being heavily influenced by R&B, ska and soul music.” Apparently, that change didn’t have much of an impact on the record’s chart performance. Like predecessor Armed Forces it reached no. 2 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart, while in the U.S. it climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard 200, just a notch below no. 10 for Armed Forces. Get Happy!! was ranked at no. 11 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, published in November 1989. Here’s I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down. Co-written by Homer Banks and Allen Jones, the tune was first recorded in 1967 by soul duo Sam & Dave.

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

A Southern Peach Turns 50 And Remains As Tasty As Ever

“Generally, conditioned peaches will last for 3-4 days on the counter, slightly longer in the fridge, and they can be frozen for an extended time,” according to The Peach Truck. Yep, that’s a thing, and it came up when I typed, ‘what is the average shelf life of a Georgia peach?’ into my search engine. Of course, the peach I’m talking about here isn’t edible, though it certainly remains just as sweet as a fully ripe peach as it was when it first appeared today 50 years ago.

Eat a Peach, a double LP part-studio, part-live album, was the fourth record by The Allman Brothers Band, released on February 12, 1972. It came on the heels of At Fillmore East, the group’s commercial breakthrough, and perhaps the best live album ever recorded, at least when it comes to southern rock and blues rock. But while the Fillmore album had turned the Allmans into a commercially viable act, the group faced enormous challenges.

By the time they started work on the new album at Criteria Studios in Miami, much of the band was in the throes of heroin addiction. Their newly found wealth from the commercial success of Fillmore probably was a double-edged sword. In October 1971, band leader Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, along with two of the group’s roadies, checked themselves into a drug rehab clinic in Buffalo, N.Y.

If I interpret the background I read correctly, following the above drug rehab, the Allmans went on a short tour. The day after Duane Allman had returned to Macon, Ga., he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24. “We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane?” said drummer Butch Trucks, according to Wikipedia citing a 2014 Allmans bio by Alan Paul. “But then we realized: how could we stop?”

In the wake of Duane’s death lead guitarist Dickey Betts essentially stepped into his shoes and took over the group’s leadership. In December 1971, the Allmans returned to Miami’s Criteria Studios to finish the album. Like At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach was produced by music genius Tom Dowd who had also served in that capacity for part of their sophomore album Idlewild South.

Among Dowd’s many prior accomplishments was the production of rock gem Layla that had brought together Eric Clapton and Duane Allman for one of the most memorable collaborations in rock. You can read more about Dowd and an amazing documentary titled Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music here.

Eat a Peach gatefold: The elaborate mural was drawn by W. David Powell and J. F. Holmes

BTW, the record’s title came from a quote by Duane who had said, “You can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution … Every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.” I’d say the time is ripe for some music.

Let’s start with Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, which opens Side one. The tune was written by Gregg Allman shortly after the death of his brother Duane and was Gregg’s attempt to come to terms with the tragic event. The song also became the album’s lead single in April 1972, backed by Melissa. Betts does a great job on slide guitar. He had big shoes to fill!

Closing out Side one is Melissa, another tune penned by Gregg Allman. In fact, he wrote it in 1967 prior to the formation of the Allmans. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘OK, here we go,” Allman said during a 2006 interview, as captured by Songfacts. “And about 200 songs later – much garbage to take out – I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.’ And I had everything but the title.” The title would come to Gregg one night in a grocery store when he watched a Spanish woman telling her active little girl, Melissa, to stop running away. Melissa was a favorite of Duane’s. It also became the A-side of the record’s second single in August 1972.

I’m skipping all of Side two, which is the first part of Mountain Jam, a track that more appropriately should have been titled marathon jam. I realize this may not exactly endear me to die-hard fans of the Allmans or Grateful Dead, for that matter. While I recognize Mountain Jam features great musicianship, which among others includes an amazing bass solo by Berry Oakley I have to acknowledge as a retired hobby bassist, 19:37 minutes followed by 15:06 minutes on Side four simply is too much of a jam for me.

Instead, I’d like to highlight Trouble No More, the second track on Side three. Like Mountain Jam, it was leftover material from the group’s 1971 Fillmore East performances. Credited to Muddy Waters, he first recorded the upbeat blues in 1955. Wikipedia notes it’s a variation on Someday Baby Blues, a tune Sleepy John Estes had recorded in 1935.

Next up is Blue Sky, written by Dickey Betts about his then-native Canadian girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. Notably, this was the first Allmans song that featured Betts on lead vocals. He also sang lead on Ramblin’ Man, the group’s biggest hit from 1973, a no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Blue Sky also was Duane Allman’s final recording with the band. The country-flavored tune features beautiful harmony guitar action and alternating solos by Allman and Betts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track of Side three: Little Martha. The lovely acoustic instrumental is the only tune on the record solely credited to Duane Allman (Duane received a co-credit for the aforementioned Mountain Jam). Songfacts notes, Duane wrote it for Dixie Lee Meadows, a girl with whom he was having an affair. “Little Martha” was a nickname Duane called her. According to Scott Freeman’s Midnight Riders: The Story of The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman claimed this came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix showed him how to play the song using a sink faucet in a hotel room. Duane woke up and started playing it.

Eat a Peach was both a chart and a commercial success for The Allman Brothers Band. It reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, becoming their second-highest charting record. Successor Brothers and Sisters, which featured Ramblin’ Man, made it all the way to no. 1. Eat a Peach also did well in Canada where it reached no. 12. In Australia, the album peaked at no. 35.

In December 1995, Eat a Peach reached Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Together with At Fillmore East and Brothers and Sisters, this makes it one of the group’s three albums with certified sales of at least one million units.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Peach Truck; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 7

Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.

1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden.  Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!

1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.

1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”

1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 3

It’s time to take another look at music history. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete account of events that happened on the select date. With that reminder out of the way, let’s take a look at February 3.

1959: Sadly, the first item here is the tragic and untimely death of early rock & roll star Buddy Holly at age 22. During a short 7-year professional career, the man from Lubbock, Texas recorded such original gems as That’ll Be the Day, Words of Love, Everyday, Not Fade Away and It’s So Easy, as well as great tunes penned by other songwriters like Peggy Sue and Oh, Boy! On January 3, 1959, Holly and his band embarked on the Winter Dance Party tour. Following a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were supposed to travel to their next show in Mason City, Iowa. After Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized for frostbites in his toes due to icy conditions on the tour bus, Holly decided to look for alternate transportation and chartered a small propeller plane. But the four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza never reached its destination. In the early morning hours of February 3, it crashed into a frozen cornfield close to Mason City, instantly killing Holly and the three other people on board: Fellow rock & roll artists Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper), as well as the pilot Roger Peterson. In 1971, the tragic event became known as “The Day the Music Died” in American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s tune American Pie.

1967: The Beatles were at Abbey Road’s EMI Studios to add overdubs to A Day in the Life, one of my all-time favorite tunes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. According to The Beatles Bible, the session began at 7:00 pm and finished at 1:15am the following morning. Each of the overdubs replaced previously-recorded parts: Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s bass and drums parts they had recorded on January 20. McCartney then overdubbed his lead vocals to correct a wrong word sung during the previous session. Starr’s drum part recorded that night became one of his most- admired upon the album’s release in May of the same year. Here’s a neat clip.

1973: Elton John hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Crocodile Rock. According to Songfacts, John said the retro tune contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including “Little Darlin'”, “At The Hop” and “Oh Carol” as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song “See You Later Alligator” – Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” even gets a mention, as that’s what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock. With music written by John and lyrics penned by Bernie Taupin, Crocodile Rock was John’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. It also topped the charts in other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, and became a top 5 hit in Australia, the UK and a few other European countries. Crocodile Rock was also included on John’s sixth studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, which had been released in January that same year.

1979: The Blues Brothers featuring comedians and actors John Belushi (“Joliet” Jake Blues ) and Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) proved they were no joke, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. with their debut Briefcase Full of Blues. Capturing a live gig in Los Angeles from September 1979, the album also featured a formidable backing band. Among others, it included guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, both formerly of Booker T. & the M.G.’s., and blues guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Buddy Guy and Etta James. Belushi, Aykroyd, Cropper, Dunn and Murphy all would appear the following year in the cult comedy picture The Blues Brothers. Here’s their rendition of the 1967 Sam & Dave classic Soul Man, a tune written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

1986: Dire Straits were on top of the UK chart with their fifth studio album Brothers in Arms. The British band’s second-to-last studio release turned out to be their most successful one. It also reached no. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various other European countries. Additionally, with more than 30 million copies sold globally, Brothers in Arms is one of the world’s best-selling albums. It also holds the distinction of being one of the first albums recorded all digitally (DDD). One could argue its extremely clean sound gave it a bit of a sterile feel. Here’s the beautiful Your Latest Trick penned by Mark Knopfler, the group’s leader and main songwriter. The stunning saxophone part was played by American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker.

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

Neil Young’s Harvest Turns 50

On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released his fourth studio album Harvest. The 50th anniversary of what is among my all-time favorite Young records almost escaped my attention. I mistakenly had assumed the release date was February 14.

Young recorded Harvest following the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in July 1970 after the end of their tour that year, which had strained relationships among the four members. It would take until 1974 before they would get back together again for a reunion tour.

For Harvest Young assembled a backing band he called The Stray Gators. The members were Jack Nitzsche (piano), Ben Keith (steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass) and Kenny Buttry (drums). In addition to The Stray Gators, Harvest featured various notable guests, including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and, interestingly, each of Young’s former CSNY’s bandmates.

Let’s take a look at some of the songs. Side one kicks off with the beautiful Out on the Weekend. Like all other tracks, the tune was written by Young.

A Man Needs a Maid is a song about Young’s girlfriend at the time, the actress Carrie Snodgress. According to Songfacts, initially, the tune was coupled with Heart of Gold and played on piano. “It was like a medley,” Young said in [the autobiography – CMM] Shakey, “the two went together.”

Speaking of Heart of Gold, a post celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harvest wouldn’t be complete without this song. One of Neil Young’s best-known tunes, it also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in January 1972 and became his biggest hit. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provided backing vocals. Taylor also played banjo.

On to Side two. Here’s Old Man, a tune Young wrote about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970 as a 25-year-old. Like on Heart of Gold, backing vocals were provided by Taylor and Ronstadt, with Taylor also contributing banjo. Songfacts quotes Ronstadt from an interview with music magazine Mojo: “I can’t remember why Neil wanted me to sing with him – I guess he just figured I was there and could do it – but we went in there and they were doing ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ and I thought they were such beautiful songs.” Old Man also became the album’s second single in April 1972.

Another great tune on Side two is Alabama. According to Songfacts, This song can be seen as a follow-up to Young’s 1970 song “Southern Man” from After The Gold Rush. Canadian-born Young abhorred the idea of racism and spoke out – loudly – about his feelings. This song went unnoticed by most, but combined with the previous effort, it caused Lynyrd Skynyrd to pen their Southern Rock classic “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Young’s assertions...In his 2012 autobiography  Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young said of this song, “I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Stephen Stills and David Crosby provided backing vocals.

The last song I’d like to highlight is The Needle and the Damage Done, a tune about heroin use and what this drug sadly will do to many who get into it. Young wrote this song about ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who struggled with heroin addiction. In fact, Young hired him in April 1972 to join rehearsals for his tour to support the Harvest album. But Whitten wasn’t up to the task and Young ended up firing him on November 18 that year, giving him $50 and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Once Whitten got there, he overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him – making Young feel guilty for many years.


Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. While most music artists would have been pleased with such success, Neil Young felt alienated. He followed up Harvest with what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Time Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While these three records didn’t match Harvest’s chart and sales performance, they became favorites of many Young fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! 🙂

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far — this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 21

Dare I say it, it looks like my irregularly recurring music history feature is becoming more frequent. But with nearly 300 dates left to cover, I still have a long way to go, so it’s safe to assume this series won’t end anytime soon. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the events in music that happened on January 21 over the past six decades or so. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the untimely death of operatic rock artist Meat Loaf, which was reported overnight. He was believed to have been 74 years old. The cause of death has not been revealed.

1963: Since nearly everything in my little music world starts or finishes with The Beatles, let’s get this bloody item out of the way. According to The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the band, On this day The Beatles appeared on the EMI plug show The Friday Spectacular, at EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London. They chatted to hosts Shaw Taylor and Muriel Young, and studio recordings of ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ were played. The show was recorded before an audience of around 100 teenagers, and was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg. The overwhelming crowd size tells you this was still pre-Beatlemania. Though their press officer Tony Barrow said that during the recording, “I was finally convinced that The Beatles were about to enjoy the type of top-flight national fame which I had always believed that they deserved.” Side note: Three years later on that same date, George Harrison married his first wife Pattie Boyd, with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

1966: The Trips Festival, a three-day landmark event in the development of psychedelic music, kicked off at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, Produced by Ken Kesey, Ramon Sender, and Stewart Brand, the event is largely recognized as the first to bring together what would be called the “hippie” movement. The sold-out festival, which drew 10,000 people, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, among others. And some 6,000 people drinking punch spiked with LSD, who witnessed one of the first fully developed light shows of the era. I also found this trippy clip!

1978: Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album of the 1977 motion picture starring John Travolta, stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first of 24 weeks on top of the U.S. mainstream chart. It also reached no. 1 in Canada, the UK, Australia and many other countries. Saturday Night Fever became one of the best-selling albums in music history. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, it remains the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard. But, as oftentimes is the case, what goes up must come down. Not even three years later, the Bee Gees, the group most associated with the soundtrack and disco, called it quits, finding themselves caught in the furious backlash toward disco including bomb threats – something you could sadly picture nowadays as well! I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care whether you call Bee Gees music disco, R&B, disco-influenced or anything else – I dig it!

1984: British progressive rock stalwarts Yes hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Owner of a Lonely Heart. Co-written by band members Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass vocals), together with co-producer Trevor Horn, the catchy pop rocker was first released in October 1983 as the lead single for the group’s 11th studio album 90125, which came out the following month. Owner of the Lonely Heart became Yes’s first and only no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also did well in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 2. While earlier singles like Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout and And You and I are great songs as well, they simply weren’t radio-friendly. Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

1987: Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards during the Rock Hall’s second annual induction ceremony. Here’s what the Rock Hall posted on their website: Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen. And here are The Rolling Stones guitarist’s live remarks from that night – let’s just say it was a classic Keith Richards speech!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube