Musings of the Past

My Playlist: AC/DC

Last Saturday night, I went to see a fun AC/DC tribute band. For anyone living in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area, where they mostly play, they’re called Stiff Upper Lip, in case you’re interested in catching them. This reminded me of how much I’ve come to dig the rockers from down under – and of a post I originally published in June 2020. Here it is again, with an added Spotify list at the end, which in addition to the featured tunes includes a few other AC/DC songs.

My Playlist: AC/DC

Yesterday, I found myself listening to AC/DC and once again was reminded what a kick-ass rock band they were. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, it occurred to me that I had not put together a playlist. Well, the time has come, but before getting to some music, a bit of history is in order.

AC/DC were formed in Sydney, Australia in November 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Angus Young (lead guitar) who teamed up with Larry Van Kriedt (bass), Colin Burgess (drums) and Dave Evans (vocals). Apparently, the Young brothers came up with the band’s name after their sister Margaret Young had seen the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. Margaret also inspired Angus Young’s characteristic school-uniform stage outfit.

In September 1974, Evans was replaced by vocalist Bon Scott. Like the Young brothers, Scott had been born in Scotland and come to Australia as a child. In October 1974, AC/DC recorded their first studio album High Voltage. It was produced by Malcolm’s and Angus’ older brother George Young and Harry Vanda, who both were also members of The Easybeats. The album was released in February 1975 in Australia only.

LONDON – 1st AUGUST: Australian rock band AC/DC posed in a studio in London in August 1979. Left to right: Malcolm Young, Bon Scott, Angus Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

By the time AC/DC started work on their sophomore record T.N.T. in the summer of 1975, Mark Evans (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) had joined the band. Not only saw the record, another Australia-only release that appeared in December 1975, the band’s classic lineup but also the hard-edged R&B-based rock & roll that would become AC/DC’s trademark sound.

The next important stage in the band’s history was the signing with Atlantic Records and their first international release in April 1976, an album that was also titled High Voltage. The record was a compilation of tracks from the band’s first two albums. AC/DC have since recorded 14 additional studio albums, and released various live and soundtrack records, one EP and two box-sets. The band has also gone through numerous lineup changes, with Angus Young being the only remaining original member. Let’s get to some rock & roll!

I’d like to kick it off with Love Song, a tune from AC/DC’s first record, the aforementioned Australia-only release High Voltage. Like all their songs until the Highway to Hell album, it was co-written by Angus YoungMalcolm Young and Bon Scott. The track is one of two tunes from that album that were never officially released internationally until 2009 when they were included in the box-set Backtracks.

AC/DC’s first international release, which as noted above was also titled High Voltage, includes two of their early classics: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) and T.N.T. It was a tough choice since I dig both of these tunes. I decided to go with the former song, which also became the album’s second single. Who would have thought bagpipes and hard rock guitar form such a friggin’ perfect harmony!

For the next tune, I’m jumping to Let There Be RockAC/DC’s fifth album from July 1977. It was the last record with bassist Mark Evans, who after clashes with Angus was replaced by Cliff Williams. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that record, the fantastic closer Whole Lotta Rosie.

Highway to Hell marked another important milestone for AC/DC’s. The band’s seventh studio album released in July 1979 was the last with Bon Scott, who died in February 1980 after a night out in London. The official cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning, but according to a book by British-Australian author Jesse Fink, heroin was involved as well. While the album’s title track certainly hasn’t lacked exposure, I think it remains one of the greatest rock songs of all time, with a beautifully simple, instantly recognizable guitar riff. Here’s the official video.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AC/DC almost called it quits after Bon Scott’s death. But they decided to carry on and, apparently with the Scott family’s encouragement, hired Brian Johnson. Not only did Johnson become the band’s new vocalist, but throughout the ’80s, he also assumed Scott’s role in co-writing songs with the Young brothers. Five months after Scott’s death, AC/DC released Back in Black. The title and the all-black cover were in honor of Scott. With more than 50 million copies sold worldwide, Back in Black not only became AC/DC’s most successful record but one of the best-selling albums in music history. Here’s the official video of the great title track, another tune with a brilliant guitar riff.

For the next tune, let’s jump to January 1988 and AC/DC’s 12th album Blow Up Your Video, the last produced by Harry Vanda and George YoungThat’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll also came out separately as the record’s second single in March 1988. Here’s the official video.

After releasing five albums during the ’80s, which certainly was a remarkable pace, AC/DC started to slow down. The ’90s only saw two new records. Another change was that the two Young brothers took over all of the songwriting. Here’s Hard as a Rock, the great opener from Ballbreaker, the second of the two albums that appeared in September 1995. Phil Rudd, who had left during the recording sessions for the Flick of the Switch album from August 1983 due to drug problems and frictions with Malcolm Young, returned as the band’s drummer.

Stiff Upper LipAC/DC’s 15th studio album from February 2000, saw the return of George Young as producer. Here’s the opener and title track. It also became the album’s lead single.

In October 2008, AC/DC released Black Ice. With an eight-year span since Stiff Upper Lip, it marked the longest gap between the band’s successive studio albums. The record’s development was delayed due to an injury bassist Cliff Williams had sustained and the band’s switch from Elektra Records to Sony Music Entertainment. But I guess AC/DC made it count by making Black Ice their longest-running studio album to date. Here’s the official video of opener and lead single Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from AC/DC’s most recent record Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. While all songs were co-written by Angus Young and Malcolm Young, Malcolm had retired earlier in the year because of his declining health due to dementia. All of his guitar parts were recorded by his nephew Stevie Young. Here’s the fantastic Play Ball, a true late-career gem, in my opinion.

Sadly, AC/DC’s story has been pretty grim since Malcolm Young’s departure. Shortly before Rock or Bust’s appearance, Phil Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill, possession of methamphetamine and possession of cannabis, following a police raid on his home. While the murder procurement charge was subsequently dropped, Rudd was convicted of the other charges and sentenced to eight months home detention and a fine of NZ$120,000 in July 2015. As a result, he missed the 2015-2016 supporting tour for Rock or Bust.

Things got worse. In April 2016 during the Rock or Bust tour, AC/DC announced the departure of Johnson due to hearing issues. Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose was brought in to complete the tour’s remaining gigs. In July 2016, bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement from the band at the end of the tour. On November 18, 2017, Malcolm Young passed away at the age of 64. Three weeks earlier, George Young had died. A cause of death wasn’t reported. He was 70 years old.

AC/DC have sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including approximately 71 million in the U.S. alone. And the story may not be over yet. Over the past couple of years, there have been rumors about a new AC/DC album in the making. And it appears they weren’t just rumors.

In February this year, heavy metal vocalist Dee Snider told Blabbermouth.net  that Brian Johnson not only had confirmed to him that he was working with the band again, but that AC/DC was indeed recording a new album. Apparently, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are back in the fold. Supposedly, the material includes recordings of Malcolm Young from the early 2000s. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

– END-

The original post, which was published on June 3, 2020, ended here. In the meantime, AC/DC against the odds did release another album, Power Up, in November 2020. Featuring Angus Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams and Stevie Young (nephew of Malcolm Young), AC/DC’s 17th studio album, which I reviewed here at the time, delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans – a truly remarkable outcome!

So what’s in store for AC/DC? According to a December 21, 2022 story on Blabbermouth.net, Brian Johnson when asked during a recent SiriusXM interview with Eddie Trunk whether the band will ever perform again live declined to answer: “I’m not answering that. Why should I? First of all, there’s five members in this band, and to ask one member isn’t fair.” When Trunk pressed him, Johnson added, “Eddie, I cannot answer that. I’ve been told not to by everybody. It’s the official line.” I guess until that changes, AC/DC fans will need to be patient.

Here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; YouTube; Spotify

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Musings of the Past

Making Your Christmas Groove

It’s been about seven weeks since the last Musings of the Past, a feature that roughly runs once a month where I revisit previous posts published at a time when this blog was in its younger days. I guess I missed November! With the holiday season being in full swing, I thought this would be an opportune moment to republish a post from December 2017, which featured a variety of modern Christmas songs from various music genres. The Spotify playlist at the end wasn’t in the original post.

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year [December 2016 – CMM]. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe at the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies suddenly discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

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

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano & Daryl Hall/Feliz Navidad (2010)

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

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

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

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

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 21, 2017, ended here. And, yes, I kept Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, even though I snarkily commented the other day this tune has been overexposed – oh, well, it was part of the original post. Plus, it’s certainly not terrible!

The Spotify playlist is an addition. Instead of The Ravers, it features a rendition of It’s Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas by UK pop punk band Majorettes. Feliz Navidad is the studio version José Feliciano recorded in 1970, not the live performance with Daryl Hall captured in the clip. The playlist also includes some additional tunes. Season’s Greetings!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Featuring Dire Straits in my most recent Sunday Six installment reminded me of Making Movies, which next to their eponymous debut is my favorite album by the British rock band. I also recalled a dedicated post from December 2017 and thought it would be worthy to republish. Here is a slightly edited version that features an added Spotify link.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece  Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits’ eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swing remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day. Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is one of their best records:  Making Movies.

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV. Rollergirl, don’t worry, DJ, play the movies all night long.

For the last tune I’d like to call out let’s go to Side two (speaking in vinyl terms): Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 17, 2017, ended here. Nothing more to add except a Spotify link to the album:

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Germans Who Rock In German

My recent trip to Germany reminded me that I previously wrote about German music artists and bands who perform their songs in German. This includes the following post, which originally appeared in June 2017. This republished version has been slightly edited. I’ve also added a Spotify playlist.

Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than a few acts like the Scorpions, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and Neue Deutsche Härte group Rammstein, I can’t think of any other German rock music artists with a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands and artists, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of them are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s hometown. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best-known songs. Here’s a clip.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen  released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best-known tunes. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his eponymous solo album appeared. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1984 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a musical perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released six additional studio records, the most recent of which (Nie wieder Krieg) appeared in January this year. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy EngelL.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and multi-talent Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

– End –

The original post, first published on June 17, 2017, ended here. The following Spotify playlist has been added. It includes most of the above songs and some additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

The other day while browsing the blog for older content that would be worthwhile to republish, I came across a post from August 2018 about my favorite David Bowie album. That’s when I realized that I had actually missed the 50th-anniversary date of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But since June 16 only passed about four weeks ago, I felt it was still close enough to celebrate this milestone with a repost of the above.

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space OddityThe Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for StarmanZiggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography  Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be secondary to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off-topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s  Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been its own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling  Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s musical arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part of his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder  (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the  Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton JohnPink FloydMahavishnu OrchestraJeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

– End –

The original post, first published on August 28, 2018, ended here. The following link to the album on Spotify has been added:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

When The Beatles’ Revolver Turned 50

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop blog featured I Want to Tell You, a George Harrison tune from Revolver, rightfully noting the great opening riff and calling it very unrated. This reminded me of a post I originally published in August 2016 about the then-50th anniversary of what is widely considered one of the best albums by The Beatles.

I was about six weeks into my blogging journey. The blog was very bare-bones at the time with no embedded images or video clips in the posts. While my writing was also still evolving, I felt the content of this early post deserved to be republished. Unlike previous Musings of the Past installments, which essentially were straight reposts, I decided to enhance the Revolver post with both multi-media and some additional text at the end. I also slightly amended the headline. Here we go.

When The Beatles’ Revolver Turned 50

It was 50 years ago yesterday (Aug 5): The Beatles released Revolver in the UK, an album that is considered a leap from predecessor Rubber Soul, introducing more experimentation and innovative recording techniques.

On Aug 5, 1966, The Beatles released Revolver, their seventh studio album in the UK. Just the other day, a good friend of mine told me many experts consider it the best album of the Fab Four. Yesterday, I noticed a number of related articles from music sources like Rolling Stone and others commemorating the occasion. So I decided to take a closer look on this mold-breaking album.

On RevolverThe Beatles started experimenting with various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings and varispeeding. The most significant innovation was Artificial Double Tracking (ADT), which was invented by Ken Townsend, a recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios. The technique essentially combines an original audio signal with a delayed copy of that signal. Previously, the effect could only be accomplished by natural doubling of a voice or instrument, a technique called double-tracking.

The invention of ADT mainly was spurred by a request from John Lennon who during the Revolver sessions asked for a less tedious alternative to double-tracking. ADT was soon adopted throughout the recording industry.

Revolver was also remarkable for other reasons. The title, by the way, had nothing to do with guns but was derived from the verb revolve. One of the album’s highlights is the string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby, which was written by George Martin. Otherwise, the tune was primarily penned by Paul McCartney. Blending classical and pop music broke conventions. It would take another four years before another British band, Electric Light Orchestra, would take this concept to the stratosphere.

Revolver also saw George Harrison take on a bigger role in song-writing and shaping the band’s sound: TaxmanLove You To and I Want to Tell You were all written by him. Love You To featured Indian classical instruments, which George had introduced on Rubber Soul with his use of the sitar on Norwegian Wood. On Revolver, he also introduced the tambura, another instrument used in Indian music, on John’s Tomorrow Never Knows. Another interesting tidbit I read: The guitar solo on Taxman was played by Paul after George had made multiple unsuccessful attempts.

Apart from the above, Revolver included other gems like Here, There and EverywhereGood Day Sunshine and Got to Get You into My Life. The sessions to the album also yielded the non-album single Paperback Writer with Rain as the b-side.

In the U.S., Revolver was released on August 8, 1966. The release coincided with The Beatles’ third and final concert tour in the U.S. and Toronto. Except for Paperback Writer, the band did not perform any of the songs from the Revolver sessions.

Revolver won the 1966 Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. The cover artwork was designed by Klaus Voormann, who had known The Beatles since 1960 when he met them during their time in Hamburg. While Revolver was well received in the UK, the initial reception in the U.S. was less enthusiastic due to John’s controversial statement that The Beatles had become bigger than Jesus. Eventually, the album was certified 5 times platinum in the U.S. and platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, first published on August 6, 2016, ended here. Following is some additional content about two songs that are among my favorites on Revolver.

First up: Taxman. According to Songfacts, George was a fan of the 1960s American television series Batman. The music for Taxman was inspired by the Batman Theme, written and first recorded by conductor/trumpeter Neal Hefti. It was subsequently covered in early 1966 by The Marketts, an American surf rock group. “‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes,” Harrison said. Subsequently, he changed his stance about money, telling BBC Radio in 1969, “No matter how much money you’ve got, you can’t be happy anyway. So you have to find your happiness with the problems you have and you have to not worry too much about them.”

Let’s wrap up with John Lennon tune And Your Bird Can Sing. From Songfacts: “Bird” is British slang for “Girl.” One theory is that this song is a scolding by John Lennon of his buddy Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, who loved to brag about his bird – Marianne Faithfull – who was great, green (jealous/young) and could sing. John made it clear that Mick and the Stones wear great but could never ever match up to John and the other Beatles...The signature dual-harmony electric lead guitar parts were played live (without overdubbing) by Harrison and McCartney. Lennon played the rhythm in the “D major” position with the capo on the second fret (to account for the song being in the key of E)...John Lennon said this was a throwaway song with random words of psychedelia added in designed to sound like it meant something. He considered it one of his worst songs. Not bad for a “junk tune”!

Last but not least here is a Spotify link to Revolver:

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Musings of the Past

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

Time to take another trip down memory lane. In June 2017, this blog reached its one-year mark. I had recently introduced a new feature titled “The Hardware.” In a nutshell, the idea was to write about iconic music gear in rock, take a look at the technology without going overboard, and feature some of the artists who played the corresponding piece of equipment.

Among my all-time favorite instruments are Rickenbacker guitars, especially 12-string versions, even though I never owned one. I’ve always loved their distinct jangly sound. And, who knows, one of these days I might be crazy enough to get one, even though my guitar skills have become terribly rusty, and the electric guitar and I never became good friends. I suppose it can be tricky when you take classical guitar lessons and then try to apply what you learned to the electric.

Anyway, the following post first appeared on CMM on June 24, 2017. It has been slightly edited for style. I also added a Spotify playlist.

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

The “jangling” sound of the legendary 12-string guitar had a huge impact on 60s rock

Perhaps no other ’60s band is more closely associated with the chiming sound of the Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar than The Byrds. The first time I distinctly noticed its beautiful sound must have been on Mr. Tambourine Man, though the musician who put the 360/12 initially on the map was not Roger McGuinn but George Harrison in early 1964.

Founded in 1931 as Ro-Pat-In Corporation by Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp, later named Electro String and eventually Rickenbacker, the company became a pioneer in electric musical instruments. It was the world’s first manufacturer of electric guitars. Initially, the company made electric Hawaiian guitars before starting to produce a large range of electric and bass guitars.

In 1963, Rickenbacker created the first 12-string electric guitar. In early 1964, Frances C. Hall, who had bought the company in the 1940s, met with The Beatles in New York during their first U.S. tour to show different models to them. John Lennon checked out a 360/12 but thought it would be better suited for Harrison, who was sick and didn’t attend the meeting. When Harrison eventually saw the guitar, he liked it right away. His use of the instrument in the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night would give Rickenbacker electric guitars an enormous boost in popularity.

And then, there was of course McGuinn who introduced The Byrds’ chiming signature guitar sound to the music world on the band’s 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Coming from a folk tradition and using a 12-string  Rickenbacker, McGuinn essentially created folk-rock, a new genre at the time.

Asked during an interview with Guitar.com how he came up with the jingle-jangle sound, McGuinn explained, “It was a natural process. It wasn’t like we popped it out of the oven fully grown. I was playing folk music and we played a lot of fingerpicking stuff…And when I heard the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the movie A Hard Days Night, that’s where I first got the idea to use that [in my music]. And it made a difference in the sound. It was a much cleaner and bigger and fuller sound.” How about a little demo from the maestro on his Roger McGuinn limited edition Rickenbacker 12-string – isn’t that sound absolutely magical?

As for his preference for the Rickenbacker, McGuinn said, “it sounds different from any other 12-string on the market. I have a Fender 12-string and it sounds completely different even though I put Rickenbacker pickups on it. Maybe it’s the wood or the dimensions of the wood or the semi-hollow-body construction. It could be a lot of different things. But it’s got a distinctive sound. Also they do something different with the stringing. Normal 12-string guitars have an octave string and then the low string. Rickenbacker does it backwards. They have the low string first and then the octave. So the last thing you hear kind of rings out. It’s like you’re picking backwards.”

One of the 360/12’s defining features is the headstock and the way the 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs. Like on a standard guitar, there are three tuners mounted on each side, with the tuner posts projecting out from the face of the headstock. In addition, three tuners are attached to the side of the headstock, with the tuner knobs pointing toward the rear of the headstock. This design allows the headstock to have the same size as a headstock of a standard six-string, which in turn avoids the head-heavy feel other 12-string guitars tend to have. Are you still with me? 🙂

Another distinct feature of the 360/12 is the string set-up. In a conventional 12-string, the high (octave) string is the first in each pair of strings. On the 360/12, the octave string is the second in each pair. Together with the semi-hollow body design, this string set-up creates the guitar’s signature sound.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, according to a recent story in Guitar World, adding with other 12-string guitars, “you spend hours trying to tune it.” I’ve never owned a 12-string, but the idea to tune the string pairs in exact octaves and relative to each other sounds pretty challenging to me, especially without a guitar tuner!

Not surprisingly, the Rickenbacker 360/12 became a very popular guitar. Following are some clips that prominently feature this beautiful instrument:

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/The Waiting

The Byrds/Turn! Turn! Turn!

Okay, this is the second update to this post, so I hope the third version will make a charm! A dear friend brought to my attention this awesome take of If I Needed Someone, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, from McGuinn – sounds a bit like So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star meeting Harrison! I have to admit, I almost like it better than the original!

– End –

Following is a Spotify playlist including the above tunes and some others, allegedly featuring a Rickenbacker 360/12. In some cases, it’s definitely more obvious than in others.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Guitar.com; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube