Hey, Hey, The Blues is Alright

I got this song/I’m gonna sing/I’m gonna sing it just for you/If you dig the blues/I want you to help me sing it, too/I want everybody to hear me when I say/The blues is back, and it’s here to stay.

The above intro from The Blues is Alright, a tune by Little Milton, nicely captures how I’m feeling as I’m writing this post. Of course, the blues has always never really left, though I guess it’s fair to say it had greater visibility when Milton released that song back in 1984 and Stevie Ray Vaughan was all the rage.

Sadly, Vaughan and Milton are no longer with us, not to mention the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, to name a few artists of the “old guard.” But over the past few months, exciting new blues music has been released. And as somebody who digs the blues, that truly makes me happy. Are you ready for some? Ready or not, here we go!

Robert Cray first appeared on my radar screen in 1988 with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the title track to his sixth studio album, a tune that grabbed me immediately. Fast-forward some 32 years and 18 records later to February 28 this year when Cray released That’s What I Heard. Produced by longtime collaborator Steve Jordan, who also plays drums and percussion, the great collection includes four original tracks and eight covers. The Robert Cray Band also features Richard Cousins (bass), Dover Weinberg (keyboards) and Terence F. Clark (drums). Here’s the opener Anything You Want, an original. Apart from being a decent guitarist, I think Cray also has a great soulful voice.

Ever heard of British blues-rock guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor? Damn, that lady sounds smoking hot to me! Even though Taylor is only in her mid-30s, she has an impressive record. She was discovered at the age of 16 by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics), who in 2002 invited her to tour in Europe with his band D.U.P. In 2009, Taylor’s debut album White Sugar appeared. Her latest release is Reckless Blues, an EP that came out two weeks ago on March 6. Here’s a great cover of Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, a tune John Mayer wrote and first recorded for his third studio album Continuum from September 2006.

Let’s move on to Frank Bey. Admittedly, I had never heard of him until earlier today, even though the man is 74 years old and, well, has been around for some time. According to his website, he began his singing career 70 years ago as a gospel singer – yep, we’re talking as a 4-year-old. At age 17, he joined the Otis Redding Revue. In the mid-70s, Bey became entangled in a legal battle with James Brown over one of his songs Brown had recorded without his permission. While the matter was settled out of court, it left Bey embittered, and he got out of the music business for 17 years. Then he returned and since 1998 has released six albums, the most recent of which is All My Dues Are Paid that appeared on January 17 this year. It’s warm and soulful. Here’s the tasty opener Idle Hands, featuring some cool wah-wah guitar and nice horn work, along with Bey’s great vocals and some hot gospel backing vocals. Check it out!

Ready for two more? Here’s Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his new single Empty Promises, a live recording that came out on February 14. The 21-year-old from Clarksdale, Miss. released his debut album Kingfish last May and got rave reviews. It’s certainly no coincidence he has played with the likes of Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, Eric Gales and Rick Derringer. I think we will hear many more great things from this super talented young artist. Empty Promises was written by blues and soul singer and guitarist  Michael Burks who passed away in May 2012 from a heart attack. He was only 54 years old.

The final tune I’d like to call out is by Tas Cru, another blues artist I had not heard of before either. While he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, luckily, there’s a website. According to his bio, Cru is truly a blues eclectic who refuses to let his music be bound to just one blues style…with a repertoire of over 60 original songs from multiple albums and dozens of crowd-pleasing classics…Tas Cru is currently is based out of upstate New York and performs in multiple formats ranging from solo acoustic to a 7 piece-backing band. Cru’s most recent album, which was released on February 1, is titled Drive On. According to a review in Elmore Magazine, it’s his ninth and 11th overall, when including two blues-for-kids records he made. Here’s the funky title song featuring great horn and organ work. Don’t get fooled by the tune’s slow start. Keep listening!

Sources: Wikipedia; Robert Cray website; Joanne Shaw Taylor website; Frank Bey website; Tas Cru website; Elmore Magazine; YouTube

Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

 

Revisiting My Favorite German Rock Band: BAP

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may recall seeing the name BAP. The group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. They entered my radar screen in 1981 after their national breakthrough with their third studio album Für Usszeschnigge! (translation: to cut out). BAP remain my favorite German rock band, which I realized once again the other day when listening to some of their music. This triggered my decision to do another post on them. And it may not by my last!

One of BAP’s defining features is that Niedecken performs their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. While I think they are on par with many English singing bands, undoubtedly this has largely limited their appeal to Germany, though they have ventured out to neighboring countries and even once to China. BAP have seen many line-up changes over the decades, and Niedecken remains the only original member. Since September 2014 after the departure of two longtime members, Niedecken announced that going forward the band would perform under the name Niedeckens BAP and no longer have a standing line-up.

BAP in 2016
Current members of BAP (from left): Wolfgang Niedecken (guitar, vocals), Werner Kopal (bass), Anne De Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums)

Niedecken has been BAP’s driving creative force. His key influences are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The  Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Niedecken has a friendly relationship with Springsteen. In fact, I previously read that whenever the Boss performs in Germany and Niedecken is around, he likes to invite him on stage to play a song together – to me this sounds like something Springsteen would do. BAP have released 17 studio albums, eight live recordings and three compilations to date – more than enough fodder for another playlist, so let’s get to it. Unlike the first chronological playlist I published here, this time, I’m going randomly.

Let’s kick it off with a nice blues rocker called Diego Paz Wohr Nüngzehn (Diego Paz was 19). Co-written by then-guitarist Helmut Krumminga and Niedecken, the tune has a cool ZZ Top La Grange vibe. It appeared on BAP’s 15th studio album Radio Pandora from May 2008.

The next song takes us all the way back to 1980 and Affjetaut (defrosted), BAP’s sophomore release. Here’s the opener Ne schöne Jrooß (greetings) co-written by Niedecken and Klaus Heuser, who had joined the band as their lead guitarist prior to the recording sessions and would become Niedecken’s key musical partner until his departure in 1999. While perhaps not surprisingly the sound is a bit dated, I still dig that tune.

In August 1996, BAP released their 10th studio album Amerika (America), one of my favorites. Here’s the great opener Nix Wie Bessher (nothing like it used to be), another Niedecken-Heuser co-write. As you can hear, BAP’s sound had significantly matured by then.

Time Is Cash, Time Is Money, a humorous take on organized vacation travel, appeared on the band’s sixth studio record Ahl Männer, Aalglatt (old slick guys). The song was co-written by Niedecken and producer Reinhold Mack. Mack had produced, co-produced and sound-engineered for Queen, Billy Squier and E.L.O. According to Wikipedia, it was the first time BAP relied on a “professional” producer – I assume by this they mean somebody who had worked with international acts.

Next up: Do Kanns Zaubere (you can do magic), one of my favorite BAP ballads, and yet another co-write by Niedecken and Heuser. The tune is from their fourth studio album Vun Drinne Noh Drusse (from the inside to the outside) released in August 1982.

Over their long history, BAP have released a number of songs addressing social and political issues, including racism/hostility against foreigners and nationalism – sadly topics I never thought would remain as relevant as they are today in the 21st Century. Here’s Denn Mer Sinn Widder Wer (Coz we’re great again – sound fucking familiar?) The track appeared on BAP’s eighth studio album X Für ‘e U (an “x” for a “u”) released in October 1990 in the wake of Germany’s reunification. And, yes, in case you wondered, Niedecken and Heuser teamed up for this tune as well. The clip I found is not an official video but was put together by the guy who uploaded it YouTube.

How ’bout Shoeshine? Ask and you shall receive. This great song, written by Niedecken, is from BAP’s 13th studio album Aff Un Zo (every now and then) from June 2001. It was an important record for the band after the departure of longtime members Heuser and keyboarder Alexander Büchel. The only YouTube clip of the tune I could find is this version from the 2014 unplugged live album Das Märchen Vom Gezogenen SteckerLive (the tale of the pulled plug – live). While it’s a bit different from the studio recording, I think it’s actually pretty cool.

A BAP playlist without a tune from their aforementioned breakthrough album would be incomplete. Since I previously featured what is perhaps their best-known song Verdamp Lang Her (such a long time ago), I’m going with the road tune Frau, Ich Freu Mich (Can’t wait to see you, baby). Given this record appeared in 1981, guess who co-wrote the rocker? Yep, Niedecken and Heuser had done it again!

For the next tune, let’s jump all the way forward to BAP’s most recent studio release, Lebenslänglich (for a lifetime), which appeared in early 2016: Et Ess Lang Her (long ago). The song was co-written by Niedecken and keyboarder Michael Nass. I dig the beautiful acoustic roots sound, which reminds me a bit of John Mellencamp.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Halv Su Wild (not a big deal) another of my favorite BAP albums. It is from their 16th and the last studio record to date released under the name BAP. It also marked the final album with longtime drummer Jürgen Zöller (1987-2014) and Helmut Krumminga, who had been the band’s lead guitarist from 1999 until 2014. Here’s a live version of Et Levve Ess En Autobahn (life is a highway), which apparently was captured during an open-air gig in Germany in 2012. Written by Niedecken, it’s an autobiographic song about the band’s long history.

During an interview with Swiss newspaper Tagblatt, Niedecken confirmed BAP are working on a new studio album that will likely appear sometime this year, followed by a tour in 2021. Mentioning his most recent solo effort Das Familienalbum (the family album), which was recorded in New Orleans and came out in 2017, Niedecken also hinted the band’s next record is going to feature some of the same U.S. horn players. For a long-time BAP fan like myself, this does sound intriguing.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tagblatt; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 3

A two-part musical journey to Australia

‘How can a “two-part musical journey to Australia” have a part 3,’ you might ask. Well, to start with, math has never been my strong suit. I also could have called it ‘le encore’ to the initial two-part mini-series, since that’s what it really is. But I like the concept of a part 3 in a two-part series. Plus at the end of the day, the title matters less than the music.

Parts 1 and 2, which you can read here and here, featured AC/DC, Bee Gees, The Church, Cold Chisel, Crowded House, The Easybeats, INXS, Men At Work, Midnight Oil and Little River Band – or, as Bruce, the man behind the excellent Vinyl Connection, noted, “a pretty good ‘starter pack’ of a certain kind of accessible pop/rock that is, for the most part, radio friendly.” While I leave it up to you to decide whether it’s “pretty good”, I do agree with the radio-friendly part. I realize to some folks pop is a bad word, since they associate it with commercial and selling out. I have no shame to say I like pop, if it’s well crafted. My all-time favorite band The Beatles had plenty of pop. I also think Thriller by Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is one of the best albums ever recorded.

Australian Music Collage 3

Part 3 or le encore or whatever you’d like to call it was inspired by some great feedback to parts 1 and 2 from readers like Bruce, who clearly know more about music from down under than I do. And that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy this blogging thing. One door opens another, and the more you get into it, the more you realize how little you know – or, how I prefer to view it, how much more there’s to explore! So let’s get to five additional acts from Australia from A to P. And, no, I’m not saying that’s all the land of the vegemite sandwich has to offer, but as the wise George Harrison once said all things must pass.

Ariel

My streaming music provider doesn’t list even one song by this band, which was founded in Melbourne in 1973. But luckily, there’s YouTube. The following mini-bio is based on the website of singer-songwriter and guitarist Mike Rudd and bassist Bill Putt, who were the driving force behind Ariel. The group combined key members from two of Australia’s leading progressive bands of the period: Rudd, Putt and John Mills (keyboards) had come from Melbourne’s Spectrum, while Tim Gaze (guitar) and Nigel Macara (drums) had played in Sydney-based Tamam Shud. Like Spectrum, Ariel began strongly, but lineup changes, record company problems and the changing nature of music in the mid-70s meant that they never achieved the level of success they deserved. Ariel disbanded in July 1977. During their three-and-a-half-year run, they were quite productive, releasing four studio and two live albums. Ariel proved to be Mike Rudd’s last really high-profile outfit, although he remains one of the most respected figures in the music scene. His long-time musical partner Bill Putt passed away in July 2013. Here’s Miracle Man, written by Gaze, a catchy rocker from Ariel’s debut album A Strange Fantastic Dream released in January 1974.

The Go-Betweens

Indie rock band The Go-Betweens were co-founded by singer-songwriters and guitarists Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the only constant members during the band’s existence. By the time they released their studio debut Send Me a Lullaby in November 1981, Lindy Morrison had joined on drums and vocals, with Forster and McLennan handling vocals and rhythm guitar and vocals, bass and lead guitar, respectively. By 1987, the band also included Amanda Brown (violin, oboe, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and John Willsteed (bass, guitar), the lineup until their first breakup in December 1989. After pursuing solo careers during the ’90s, Forster and McLennan revived The Go-Betweens with a new lineup in 2000. That version of the band released three more albums. Following McLennan’s death from a heart attack in May 2006, Forster dissolved the band and resumed his solo career. While The Go-Betweens had strong supporters even among critics – of all people, Robert Christgau called them “the greatest songwriting partnership working today” – chart success largely eluded them, with no top 50 hit in Australia or the UK. Here’s Cattle and Cane from the band’s sophomore album Before Hollywood that appeared in May 1983. Co-written by McLennan and Forster, the tune was also released separately as the record’s lead single. Climbing to no. 4 on the UK Independent Singles Chart, I assume it was their most successful song.

Hoodoo Gurus

Initially called Le Hoodoo Gurus, Hoodoo Gurus, a band I had never heard of before, were formed in Sydney in 1981 by Dave Faulkner (guitar, vocals), James Baker (drums), Roddy Radalj (guitar, vocals) and Kimble Rendall (guitar, vocals). So where the hell is the bassist, you might ask – after all, no bass, no band! Well, I suppose Hoodoo Gurus are an exception that proves the rule! Plus, from what I can see, at least on all of their studio albums, they knew better and had a bassist. The band’s popularity peaked in the mid to late ’80s with their second, third and fourth albums, especially in Australia, where according to Wikipedia they reached “iconic status” on the rock scene. Between 1998 and 2003 and band was on hiatus, while their members pursued side projects and solo work. By early 2003, Hoodoo Gurus had reformed. They have since released three additional albums and remain active to this day. Faulkner is the only original member of their current lineup. Here’s a tune that’s right up my alley: Show Some Emotion written by Faulkner and included on their second album Mars Needs Guitars! Love the jingle-jangle sound that reminds me of The Byrds and R.E.M.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The band (initially without a name) was founded by Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave in Melbourne in December 1983, which in addition to him included Tracy Pew (bass) and Hugo Race (guitar), or were they? Wikipedia notes an embryonic version of the band that got together in September 1983 in London where Cave lived at the time. Following a short Australian tour, Cave returned to London, where the first consistent lineup emerged with him, Race, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld (guitar, vocals), and Barry Adamson(bass). At that time, they called themselves Nick Cave and the Cavemen. Their debut album From Her to Eternity, a pun on the James Jones novel From Here to Eternity, appeared in June 1984. A biography by Mark Deming on All Music calls them “one of the most original and celebrated bands of the post-punk and alternative rock eras in the ’80s and onward.” The band remains active until today and has released 17 studio albums, the most recent of which is Ghosteen and came out last October. Here’s the official video of Into My Arms, written by Cave, and the opener to the band’s 10th studio album The Boatman’s Call from March 1997.

Powderfinger 

Powderfinger were formed in Brisbane in 1989 by Steven Bishop (drums), John Collins (bass) and Ian Haug (guitar, vocals), who were all students at a local private school. They started out as a cover rock band that among others played songs by Neil Young, whose classic Powderfinger became their name. By 1992, the band had evolved into the lineup that existed until their disbanding in 2010: Haug, Collins, Bernard Fanning (vocals), Darren Middleton (guitar) and Jon Coghill (drums). Following a self-funded EP that appeared on their own label Finger in August 1992, the band released their first full-fledged record Parables For Wooden Ears in July 1994. It was poorly received. But things started to change significantly with their sophomore release Double Allergic that catapulted them to no. 4 on the Australian charts; each of their remaining five studio albums went all the way to the top. Some of their records also charted in New Zealand. It appears their only album that made the Billboard 200 ironically was titled Odyssey Number Five, their fourth studio album from September 2000. That’s unfortunate. From the aforementioned album, here’s the catchy My Happiness credited to all members of the band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Mike Rudd and Bill Putt website; All Music; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 2

A two-part musical journey to Australia

Here is the second and last part of this mini-series about music from Australia. You can read part I here. I also should point out that by “music from Australia” I mean bands that were founded down under.

Aphoristic Album Reviews noted New Zealand could claim Crowded House, one of the bands included in part I, as their own, given founding member Neil Finn is from there but lived in Melbourne when they were formed. Moreover, with three Finns, their current line-up has a clear majority of New Zealanders. Fair points. Plus, one could add Neil Finn has been the band’s key songwriter.

Australian Music Collage 2

I guess one could also challenge the notion that the Bee Gees, which were also highlighted in part I, are from Australia. After all, as I noted, the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England.

But like Crowded House, they were formed there. That’s why I included them. But I suppose, there is no perfect science behind the madness. With that being said, let’s stir up some more potential controversy!

The Easybeats

The Easybeats were formed in Sydney in late 1964. Their founding members were Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar),  Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy Fleet (drums). All came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from the Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. I let you be a judge whether that actually makes them an English-Scottish-Dutch band. What is undisputed was their inspiration by the British Invasion. After signing with Parlophone/Albert Productions, The Easybeats released their debut single For My Woman in March 1965, which reached no. 33 in the Australian charts. The follow-on She’s So Fine, which appeared in May 1965, marked their national breakthrough, climbing to no. 2 on the domestic charts. The tune was also included on their debut album Easy that came out in September of the same year. In July 1966, The Easybeats relocated to London. A couple of months later, they recorded what became their biggest hit, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, the song was released in October that year. It topped the Australian and Dutch charts, and reached no. 6 and 16 in the UK and U.S., respectively. Following international success in 1966 and 1967, the band’s popularity declined and eventually, they broke up in October 1969. Here’s Friday On My Mind. I just love that tune!

INXS

INXS were founded as The Farriss Brothers in Sydney in 1977 by Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards), Jon Farriss (drums), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (lead vocals) and Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone). The following year, the band started to regularly support Midnight Oil and other local bands. In September 1979, they performed for the first time as INXS, a name that been suggested by a crew member of Midnight Oil. In early 1980, INXS signed a deal with Sydney independent label Deluxe Records and released their eponymous debut album in October that year. It wasn’t until their fourth studio record The Swing from April 1984 that the band gained recognition beyond Australia. The lead single Original Sin, which was recorded in New York with Nile Rodgers and featured Daryl Hall on backing vocals, became their first hit beyond Australia. The next studio album Listen Like Thieves from October 1985 marked their international breakthrough. A series of successful records followed. After Hutchence’s suicide in November 1997, INXS relied on guest vocalists before starting to work with a series of permanent lead vocalists. In November 2012 during a concert in Perth, Australia, the band announced they would no longer tour. Their final studio album Original Sin had appeared in November 2010. Here’s Need You Tonight, one of INXS’ biggest hits and their only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence, the song was included on their sixth studio album Kick from October 1987.

Men At Work

Men At Work were established in Melbourne in June 1979 by Colin (James) Hay (lead vocals, guitar) and Ron Stykert (bass), who had performed as an acoustic duo since 1978, and Jerry Speiser (drums). Soon thereafter, they were joined by Greg Ham (flute, saxophone, keyboards) and John Rees (bass). After Rees had entered, Stykert switched to lead guitar. In 1980, Men At Work self-financed their debut single Keypunch Operator, which was backed by Down Under. A slightly different version of the latter tune was included on the band’s debut album Business As Usual from November 1981 and became their biggest hit. In 1984, long-standing tensions between Hay and Speiser led to Speiser’s departure, along with Rees. Together with session musicians, Hay, Strykert and Ham recorded Men At Work’s third and final studio album Two Hearts released in April 1985. By early 1986, the band was toast and Hay started a solo career. In mid-1996, Hay and Ham brought Men At Work back together with a new lineup. They toured but did not record any new music. The band broke up a second time in 2002. Afterward, Hay and Ham periodically reunited to perform as Men At Work with guest musicians. In April 2012, Ham who had suffered from depression and anxiety over the loss of a copyright lawsuit related to his flute part in Down Under, passed away from a heart attack. Last June, Hay toured Europe with backing musicians as Men At Work. Here’s Who Can It Be Now?, the great lead single from the band’s debut record, which was written by Hay.

Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil were formed as Farm in Sydney in 1972, playing covers of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Led Zeppelin. Since the previous year Rob Hirst (drums), Andrew James (bass) and Jim Moginie (keyboards, lead guitar) had performed together. After they had placed an ad for a band member, Peter Garrett joined as their new vocalist and synthesizer player. In late 1976, the band changed their name to Midnight Oil, a reference to the Jimi Hendrix tune Burning of the Midnight Lamp. Martin Rotsey (guitar) joined in 1977 and together with their manager Gary Morris, Midnight Oil founded their own record label Powderworks. Their eponymous debut album appeared in November 1978. In 1982, they broke through in Australia and internationally with their fourth studio album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – yep, that’s the title! In 2002, Midnight Oil disbanded following Garrett’s decision to quit the band and focus on his political career. After temporary reunions in 2005 and 2009, Midnight Oil came back together in 2016. Last year, they announced plans for new material to be released this year. I knew about Midnight Oil because of their great 1987 tune Beds Are Burning. Here’s another song I like: Blue Sky Mine, credited to of the band’s members, and appearing on their seventh studio album Blue Sky Mining from February 1990.

Little River Band

Little River Band were founded in Melbourne in March 1975 by Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graeham Noble (guitar, vocals) and Derek Pellicci (drums), along with session musicians Graham Davidge (lead guitar) and Dave Orams (bass). In May 1975, they signed with EMI Records and released their eponymous debut album in November that year. The record was an instant success, peaking at no. 12 in Australia and no. 80 on the Billboard 200. The excellent single It’s a Long Way There, which was my introduction to the band, became their first top 40 hit in the U.S. Little River Band remain active to this day. They have had many lineup changes over the decades, and none of their original members are still around. The band’s most recent 17th studio album Cuts Like a Diamond was released in 2013. I only know a number of Little River Band songs until their May 1986 album No Reins. I generally dig their harmony singing on these tunes, which I think is comparable to other rock bands like the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Doobie Brothers. Here’s Lonesome Loser, written by David Briggs, the band’s lead guitarist from 1976 until 1981. The song is the opener to their fifth studio record First Under the Wire from July 1979. It was one of six top 10 hits Little River Band scored in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part I

A two-part musical journey to Australia

I guess it’s safe to assume this has happened to most folks, particularly those who are into music – suddenly, out of the blue, a song pops into your head you haven’t heard in a million years. Well, that’s what I encountered yesterday with When the War is Over, a tune by Australian rock band Cold Chisel.

It brought me right back to my early twenties when I was playing bass in a band. When the War is Over was one of the covers we did. I was delighted to find it in the library of my streaming music provider. It also turned out I still like it. Then I checked out Cold Chisel. Not only did I discover they still exist, but I also saw they are from Australia. I had no idea about the latter, or at least I don’t recall.

Australian Music Collage

The above episode further made me think about music from Australia. It didn’t take long to remind myself how much great music has come from this part of the world. And there’s much more than just AC/DC, Men at Work and Little River Band, the first three acts that came to my mind.

Since for the most part, this blog focuses on the U.S., England and Canada with occasional posts about German artists, I thought taking a musical trip down under would be well warranted and fun. And since putting everything in one post would be too much, I spontaneously decided to make this a two-part mini-series. So, all on board and let’s go!

AC/DC

One of the greatest rock bands I know, AC/DC were formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (guitar, backing vocals) and Angus Young (lead guitar). The band has gone through many line-up changes and a good deal of tragedy over the decades. Technically, they are still around. There were some recent reports about a new album, for example here and here. Supposedly, it’s a tribute to Malcolm Young, who passed away in November 2017. Reportedly, the album reunites Angus Young with former lead vocalist Brian Johnson, bass player Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, featuring songs Malcolm had recorded with the band before he was no longer able to play due to dementia. It also features Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young. Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, here’s a tune arguably from AC/DC’s best phase with lead vocalist Bon Scott. I don’t care that is has been played 100 million times. To me, Highway to Hell will always remain one of the most epic rock songs. Co-written by the Young brothers and Scott, it was the title track from AC/DC’s sixth studio album released in July 1979.

Bee Gees

I realize seeing the Bee Gees in this mini-series may surprise readers, especially fans of blues and rock, music genres I dig and celebrate in this blog. But while the Bee Gees clearly fall outside these genres, I actually like many of their songs for their three-part harmonies, catchy melodies and grooves. And, dare I say it, this even includes their disco-oriented tunes. Since the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England, one could also ask whether the Bee Gees should even be considered to be an Australian band. I think it’s defensible since their story started down under when Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb started singing together in December 1957 – remarkably before they had even reached their teenage years. During the first half of the ’60s, they released a few singles each year. In November 1965, their debut album The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs appeared, billed as Barry Gibb & The Bee Gees. But their early efforts remained largely unsuccessful, so the Gibb brothers decided to return to England in early 1967. Before they did, they recorded various tunes, including Spicks and Specks, which became their first hit. In February 1967, the Bee Gees signed a deal with Polydor and in July that year released their first international full-length record, Bee Gees’ 1st. The psychedelic pop album marked their international breakthrough and the rest is history. Here’s the above noted Spicks and Specks, written by Barry Gibb.

The Church

The Church were initially established as a trio in Sydney in March 1980 by singer-songwriter and bassist Steve Kilby, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. English guitarist Marty Willson-Piper joined one month later after he had seen one of the band’s gigs. In April 1981, The Church released their debut album Of Skins and Heart in Australia, which internationally came out in January 1982 and was titled The Church. The band is still around. Just recently on February 1st, Kilby announced Koppes had departed, leaving him as the only original member. In October 2017, I covered the most recent album by The Church, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, which reminded me of their album I know best and dig to this day: Starfish from April 1988. I just love the atmospheric, spacial sound of that record. Here’s Reptile, credited to all four members of the band at the time: Kilby, Koppes, Ward and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion).

Cold Chisel

Since the idea of this mini-series was sparked by When the War is Over, I simply couldn’t leave out Cold Chisel. That being said, this song and a few other tunes I’ve heard in the meantime pretty much sum up what I know about this band, which was founded in Adelaide in 1973. Wikipedia describes their music as pub rock, R&B, hard rock and rock & roll. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, this doesn’t seem to be off-base. Cold Chisel’s original line-up consisted of Ian Moss (lead guitar, vocals), Don Walker (keyboards, backing vocals), Jimmy Barnes (vocals, guitar), Les Kaczmarek (bass) and Steve Prestwich (drums). They broke up in December 1983 and reunited in October 1997 with a different line-up. While Cold Chisel have enjoyed significant popularity in Australia and New Zealand, success has largely eluded them in other parts of the world. The lyrics of the November 1981 single You Got Nothing I Want, an attack on the U.S. music industry over its lack of the band’s promotion, pretty much sealed their fate in this market. Here’s the aforementioned When the War is Over, which was written by Prestwich and appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Circus Animals released in March 1982.

Crowded House

Crowded House, which I know best from their ’80s pop-rock, were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by Neil Finn (guitar, vocals), Paul Hester (drums) and Nick Seymour (bass). Following their break-up in 1996, Crowded House have been on and off. In 2016, Finn confirmed the band is on indefinite hiatus. In April 2018, he joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham, together with Mike Campbell. But now that the Mac’s 13-month world tour is over and, according to a recent interview Mick Fleetwood gave to Rolling Stone, they are unlikely to do another extended tour, Crowded House are back with a new line-up: Finn (lead vocals, guitar keyboards), Seymour (bass, backing vocals) and Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), along with Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (guitars). Perhaps they should consider renaming themselves The Crowded Finns! Anyway, here’s a tune I loved back in the day and still dig: Don’t Dream It’s Over, written by Neil Finn, and from their 1986 eponymous debut album.

Stay tuned for part II…

Sources: Wikipedia; Fox News; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; YouTube

My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube