My Playlist: Udo Lindenberg

Pioneer of Deutsch Rock is still going strong after more than 45 years

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Udo Lindenberg is probably one of those artists most people either love or hate. While the rock musician, writer and painter has had his ups and downs over a more than 40-year career, to me he’s one of the leading contemporary German artists. Today, Lindenberg, an early pioneer of Deutsch Rock, released his 11th live album, MTV Unplugged 2: Live Vom Atlantik. His vast catalog also includes 36 studio records, as well as numerous compilations and box sets. With all of that, I felt a playlist feature was warranted.

Udo Gerhard Lindenberg was born on May 17, 1946 in the West German town of Gronau. Already as a child, he developed a good sense of rhythm and was drawn to playing the drums, initially banging on fuel barrels. As a 15-year-old, he started performing in bars in the town of Duesseldorf where he was doing an apprenticeship at a local hotel. After drifting for various years, Lindenberg went to the Northern German town of Hamburg in 1968 where his music career started to take off soon thereafter.

City Preachers 1970
City Preachers in 1970 (from left): Udo Lindenberg, Dagmar Krause, Jean-Jacques Kravetz, Inga Rumpf und Karl-Heinz Schott

First, he became the drummer of City Preachers, which are considered to be Germany’s first folk rock group. In 1969, he co-founded the German jazz rock formation Free Orbit. In October 1970, they released their first and I believe only album. It was in English and featured Lindenberg on drums and vocals. In the early ’70s, Lindenberg also worked with a few other bands, most notably jazz saxophone player Klaus Doldinger for the first record of his jazz fusion band Passport.

Lindenberg’s eponymous debut album, sung in English, appeared in August 1971. It failed to make an impact. The sophomore, Daumen Im Wind (Thumbs In The Wind) from 1972, was his first German language record. It didn’t sell well either, though the single Hoch Im Norden (All The Way Up North) gained some popularity, especially on Northern German radio stations. Lindenberg’s commercial breakthrough came in December 1973 with his third studio album Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria (All Clear On Board Of Andrea Doria). The title refers to the Italian luxury passenger vessel that collided with another passenger ship in July 1956 on route to New York near the coast of Nantucket, Mass.

Udo Lindenberg & Alice Cooper
Udo Lindenberg and Alice Cooper in July 2018

For the remainder of the ’70s and during the ’80s, Lindenberg continued to release studio albums that were pretty successful in Germany, including four records that achieved Gold status. In 1980, he produced the comedy movie Panische Zeiten (Panic Times), in which he also co-starred. During the ’90s and early 2000s, his success on the music front started to wane. Since the mid-’90s, Lindenberg had also increasingly emerged as a painter. His first exhibition was in 1996 and several others followed over the years. In March 2008, Lindenberg at age 62 staged a major musical comeback with his 35th studio album Stark Wie Zwei (Strong Like Two). The record became his first no. 1 in Germany and also charted in Austria and Switzerland, peaking at no. 2 and no. 7, respectively.

In September 2011, Lindenberg scored his biggest music success to date with the live album MTV Unplugged – Live aus dem Hotel Atlantic, his first MTV special. It topped the German record charts and peaked at no. 6 in each Austria and Switzerland; with more than 1.1 million units sold, it also became Lindenberg’s best-seller. His most recent studio album Stärker als die Zeit (Stronger Than Time) from April 2016 continued his string of successful releases. Once again, the record topped the German charts, and climbed two no. 2 and no. 7 in Switzerland and Austria, respectively. Time for some music!

I’d like to start things off with the title track of Lindenberg’s breakthrough album Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria. He wrote the lyrics and the music of the dixieland style tune. The album, which Lindenberg also co-produced, was the first to feature Panikorchester (Panic Orchestra). Founded in August 1973, the band has backed Lindenberg throughout the decades, though there have been numerous lineup changes over time.

Honky Tonky Show is a rocker from Lindenberg’s Ball Pompös, his fourth studio album from August 1974. The lyrics were written by Lindenberg, while the music is credited to him and pianist Gottfried Böttger, who at the time was a member of Panikorchester.

In April 1975, Udo Lindenberg released his fifth studio album Votan Wahnwitz, his first Gold record. Here’s Null-Rhesus Negativ (O Rhesus Negative). Lindenberg wrote both the music and lyrics of the song, which is a good example of his sense of humor. It describes the story of a man who runs into a vampire. When he reveals his blood type, the vampire tells him he doesn’t tolerate it. As a consolation, the guy then invites the vampire to a bar where they chat about life as a creature of the night.

Apart from writing his own music, Lindenberg also created German covers of various famous English songs. Sometimes he used the music and wrote new lyrics, such as for Penny Lane by The Beatles, which he turned into a song about Hamburg’s red light district known as Reeperbahn. In other cases, he developed German adaptations like for The Animals’ We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Verdammt Wir Müssen Raus Aus Dem Dreck) or the tune I’m highlighting here, Sympathie für den Teufel (Sympathy For The Devil), by The Rolling Stones. He included all of the aforementioned tunes on an album released in May 1978 called Lindenbergs Rock-Revue.

One of my favorite 70s Lindenberg records is his first live album Livehaftig, which appeared in May 1979. Here’s the great ballad Sie Ist 40 (She Is 40), which represents the reflective side of Lindenberg. The tune is about a 40-year-old woman who is stuck in an unhappy marriage, asks herself whether that’s all what’s in store for her and daydreams about living with a guy like James Dean. The lyrics were co-written by Lindenberg and German singer-songwriter Ulla Meinecke, with music by Lindenberg.

In January 1983, Lindenberg’s 16th studio album Odyssee appeared. It became popular largely because of the single Sonderzug Nach Pankow (Special Train To Pankow). Pankow refers to the borough in East Berlin where the government of the GDR (the former East Germany) was based. The song was Lindenberg’s appeal to GDR head Erich Honecker to allow him to perform in East Germany. Just like in the Soviet Union, Western rock music was banned in the GDR, since the socialist regime regarded it as subversive. The tune illustrates Lindenberg’s political side, which became very active during the ’80s. The music is based on U.S. swing classic Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Next I’d like to jump to Lindenberg’s above mentioned 2008 comeback album Stark Wie Zwei (Strong Like Two). One of the tunes on that record is Mein Ding (My Thing) with lyrics by Lindenberg and music by guitarist Jörg Sander and songwriter/musician Sandi Strmljan. Here’s the official video featuring cartoon drawings by Lindenberg.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Lindenberg’s new live album MTV Unplugged 2: Live Vom AtlantikNo More Mr. Nice Guy (So’n Ruf Musste Dir Dir Verdienen) featuring Alice Cooper. The album was compiled from three concerts Lindenberg conducted with prominent guests in July 2018 at Kampnagel, a performance venue in Hamburg. Cooper  co-wrote the song with Alice Cooper rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Michael Bruce for the band’s sixth studio album Billion Dollar Babies from February 1973. Apparently, Cooper and Lindenberg have known each other for 40 years. Here’s a cool video of the tune.

Over his career, Udo Lindenberg has sold more than 4.4 million records in Germany. His first MTV unplugged album accounts for approximately 1.1 million of these units, making it one of the best-selling records in Germany since 1975. The companion video album sold more than 200,000 copies and is also one of the most successful such releases in Germany. In addition, Lindenberg has received multiple awards for his artistic work and his social and political engagement. The latter includes the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz), the only federal decoration of Germany, for his efforts to advance peace and understanding between East and West.

Sources: Wikipedia, Udo Lindenberg website, YouTube

My Playlist: Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Here’s an artist I pretty much had forgotten about, even though I dig many of his songs – until yesterday, when I spotted Tea For The Tillerman as a listening suggestion in my streaming music service. It immediately took me back to my teenage days in Germany when I was taking guitar lessons and learning Cat Stevens tunes like Lady D’Arbanville and Father And Son. And before I knew it, I was strumming my acoustic to see whether I could still remember the chords of the latter – I did, and while I rarely grab my guitar these days and my playing has become rusty, it still felt great!

Once I had Father And Son on my mind, other tunes popped up: Morning Has Broken, Peace Train, Miles From Nowhere, Moonshadow – so much great music written by this British artist who I feel has rightly been called one of the great singer-writers during his heyday in the ’70s, along with James Taylor, Carole King and others. At the same time, I can’t think of another popular music artist who has had such an unusual and at times tumultuous journey as Yusuf/Cat Stevens, as he is known today.

Born Steven Georgiou on July 21, 1948 in London, U.K. to Stavros Georgiou, a Greek Cypriot, and Ingrid Wickman from Sweden, Stevens started his recording career as an 18-year-old in 1966. He pretty much had immediate success in the U.K. His first single I Love My Dog charted at no. 28. The song was also included on Stevens’ debut album Matthew And Son, which appeared in March 1967. Not only did the title track climb to no. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, but the record became a top 10 album, peaking at no. 7.

In 1969, Stevens almost died from tuberculosis. Not only did this traumatic experience impact his future music, but it also started a spiritual journey that eventually would lead him to convert to the Muslim faith in December 1977 and give up his music career. But before that he had reached international stardom with a series of albums in the early ’70s, including the above mentioned Tea For The Tillerman.

Cat Stevens In Concert 1970s
Cat Stevens in concert during the 1970s

In 1989, Stevens, who by then was known as Yusuf Islam, returned to the spotlight, but it wasn’t the kind of attention he had looked for. Comments he had made were widely seen as endorsing a death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie related to his novel The Satanic Verses. The reaction was harsh, especially in the U.S. Some radio stations banned his music, and a radio host in LA even called for a mass burning of Stevens’ records. The band 10,000 Maniacs, which had covered Peace Train on their 1987 album In My Tribe, decided to remove the track from later releases.

While Stevens repeatedly maintained his remarks had been misunderstood, he also said his comments were foolish. I don’t have enough insights to come to a definitive conclusion here and it’s also not my place to judge. But I think if this controversy had occurred today in the age of social media, Yusuf would have been finished as a music artist.

Yusuf-Cat Stevens in Concert
Cat Stevens performing in New Zealand in 2017

Starting from the mid-1990s, Yusuf Islam resumed his recording activity with a series of albums focused on Islamic themes. In November 2006, he released An Other Cup, his first all-new pop album in 27 years. Three additional such records have since come out. His most recent album from September 2017 is called The Laughing Apple. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to start with the above mentioned Matthew & Son, the title track of Stevens’ debut album from March 1967. Like all other songs on the record except for one, the catchy tune was written by Stevens. BTW, it features John Paul Jones on bass. The then-session musician joined the New Yardbirds the following year, the band that subsequently changed their name to Led Zeppelin.

Stevens’ sophomore release New Masters didn’t get much attention, but it includes a tune I’ve always liked: The First Cut Is The Deepest. Rod Stewart turned the song into a no. 1 single in the U.K. in 1977. Another well-known version is the cover by Sheryl Crow, who included it on her 2003 best of compilation, scoring a no. 14 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

In April 1970, Stevens released his third studio album Mona Bone Jakon. His near-death experience with TB had changed him. The tone of his lyrics had become darker. Another contrast to his first two albums was a more stripped back sound, which I love. Initially, the record was a modest success but received more attention after the release of the follow-on Tea For The Tillerman. Here’s the opener Lady D’Arbanville, one of several songs Stevens wrote about former girlfriend Patti D’Arbanville, a model and later an actress. I’ve always dug the cool guitar part on this tune.

Another great track from Mona Bone Jakon is Katmandu featuring then 20-year-old Peter Gabriel on flute. It’s just a beautiful tune!

Next up: Wild World from Tea For The Tillerman, Stevens’ fourth studio album released in November 1970, and his commercial breakthrough. It’s another tune about his ex-girlfriend Patti D’Arbanville.

Also appearing on the album is Father And Son, one of my favorite Cat Stevens songs.

In October 1971, Stevens released his fifth studio album Teaser And The Firecat, another gem in his catalog. Among the tracks I find particularly beautiful is Morning Has Broken. According to Wikipedia, this tune is a Christian hymn that was first published in 1931, with lyrics by English author Eleanor Farjeon. The piano arrangement on Stevens’ version was composed and performed by classically trained keyboarder Rick Wakeman, who is best known for his five tenures with Yes between 1971 and 2004.

Another standout on the record is Moonshadow. According to Songfacts, Yusuf today considers it his favorite of his old songs.

Up to this point, this playlist only focused on Stevens’ early years, since that’s the period I’m familiar with. But I also like to give a nod to his more recent work. I still have to explore this music in greater detail. Here’s a tune called Everytime I Dream, which appears on Roadsinger from May 2009, Yusuf’s second album since his return to pop music.

The last song I’d like to feature is See What Love Did To Me. It’s a tune from The Laughing Apple, released in September 2017 as Yusuf/Cat Stevens. This album, which mostly includes reinterpretations of old tunes and some new music, represents various milestones. It was the first since 1978 that used the Cat Stevens name. The release came 50 years after his debut record. It also reunited him with Paul Samwell-Smith, who produced his most successful records in the ’70s, and Alun Davies, his guitarist during that period.

In addition to numerous music accolades, Stevens has received various awards for his charitable humanitarian work. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, he conducted a 50th anniversary tour that kicked off in Toronto on September 12 and included 11 dates in the U.S. It appears that after a long and tumultuous journey, Yusuf/Cat Stevens is finally in a place where he is comfortable with his spiritual beliefs and his music.

Sources: Wikipedia, Yusuf/Cat Stevens website, Songfacts, YouTube

My Playlist: Pink Floyd

A long overdue tribute to one of my longtime favorite bands

Pink Floyd is one of my earliest music experiences dating back to the mid ’70s when I was nine or 10 years old and still living in Germany. It all started with Wish You Here, another record my sister had on vinyl – and yet another example where she introduced me, probably largely unconsciously, to music I still dig to this day. I’ve said it before and like to say it again: Thanks, sis, love you!

While I’ve mentioned Pink Floyd numerous times since I’ve started this blog more than two years ago, and I’ve written about Govt’ Mule’s great Dark Side of the Mule show and a fantastic Floyd tribute band called Echoes, I haven’t dedicated a post to the actual band – well, I suppose better late than never! Before getting to the music, I’d be amiss not to provide some background on the British rock band. Obviously, Pink Floyd’s history has been told many times, so if you know it already, just skip it and go right to the clips, and maybe grab some headphones – there’s plenty of great music here!

Pink Floyd emerged from a band called The Tea Set in London in 1965. After noticing there was another music outfit with the same name, guitarist and lead vocalist Syd Barrett came up with the idea to combine the first names of two blues musicians who were part of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Sounds pretty arbitrary to me, but the result sure as keck was a cool-sounding band name! Initially, they performed as The Pink Floyd Sound and also included Richard (Rick) Wright (keyboards), Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums).

Pink Floyd Jan 1968
Pink Floyd in January 1968 (clockwise from the bottom): David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, Roger Waters & Rick Wright

By 1966, the band was starting to get paid gigs, mainly playing R&B standards. They dropped “Sound” from their name at the recommendation of Peter Jenner who together with his friend Andrew King had taken over the band’s management earlier that year. Gradually, The Pink Floyd’s set featured more original compositions by Syd Barrett, the band’s first artistic leader. In early 1967, The Pink Floyd signed with EMI and recorded their debut single Arnold Layne.

By the time Floyd released their first studio album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in August 1967, they had dropped “The” from their name to become Pink Floyd. Barrett had developed a serious LSD habit and, according to Mason, “became completely distanced from everything going on.” Barrett’s behavior on stage became increasingly erratic, forcing a premature end of Pink Floyd’s U.S. tour in November 1967. The following month, guitarist David Gilmour became the band’s fifth member. Essentially, the idea was that he would play the guitar parts of Barrett who would continue to write music for the band.

Pink Floyd_Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn
Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, August 1967

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and Barrett left in March 1968. The line-up that eventually would transform Pink Floyd to international super-stardom was in place! Waters effectively took over the band’s artistic direction for the next 15-plus years. During that period, they recorded ten additional albums, including two of the best-selling records of all time: The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979). By the time of the latter, Pink Floyd essentially had become a Roger Waters project. This created tension among the members and led to departures.

The first to leave was Rick Wright in the wake of the 1980-1981 tour that supported The Wall. Eventually, Waters called it quits himself in 1985 and declared Pink Floyd was “a spent force creatively.” He then engaged in a legal battle with Gilmour and Mason over the next few years, trying to prevent them from continuing to use the Pink Floyd name. While things were settled long before then, it took Waters until 2013 to publicly admit he had been wrong about the lawsuit and to regret his ill-guided actions.

Pink Floyd At Live 8
Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8 (from left): David Gilmor, Roger Waters, Nick Mason & Richard Wright

Wright returned as a session musician for A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987), Pink Floyd’s first album in the post-Waters era. The band continued to tour and recorded one additional album during Wright’s lifetime, The Division Bell (1994). On July 2, 2005, Gilmour, Mason and Wright reunited one last time with Waters and performed as Pink Floyd at the Live 8 benefit concert in London.

On July 6, 2007, Syd Barrett died at the age of 60 after he had largely lived in seclusion for more than 35 years. Rick Wright passed away from cancer on September 15, 2008. He was 65 years old. In 2012, Gilmour and Mason decided to create one final Pink Floyd album, based on music that had been recorded with Wright during studio sessions for The Division Bell. Called The Endless River, the mostly instrumental record was released in November 2014. Now let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Arnold Layne, one of my favorite early songs The Pink Floyd released as their debut single in March 1967. Like pretty much all of the band’s original music during the Syd Barrett phase, the tune was written by the guitarist and lead vocalist.

Bike from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in August 1967, is another Barrett composition. It’s both a bit weird and catchy at the same time. Two of the cool features I like are the sound collage toward the end, which resembles the turning gears of a bike, as well as the duck or geese-like sounding screams thereafter. According to Wikipedia, they were created with a tape loop of the band members laughing, played backwards and at double speed. Obviously, The Beatles weren’t the only band that effectively had started leveraging studio technology to their advantage during the second half of the ’60s.

In June 1968, Pink Floyd released their sophomore album A Saucerful Of Secrets. The early recording sessions still included Syd Barrett whose behavior and ability to perform had increasingly become less predictable. One of the tracks, for which he provided slide and acoustics guitars and background vocals is Remember A Day, a great composition by Rick Wright who also sang lead vocals, a rarity.

Next up is what over the years has become my favorite Pink Floyd track: The mighty  Echoes from the band’s sixth studio album Meddle that appeared in October 1971. Credited to all four members of the band and clocking in at more than 23 minutes, the epic tune comprises the entire second side of the vinyl LP. I realize only a hard core fan may listen to the entire clip, but that’s fine with me. I simply couldn’t leave out this one!

In March 1973, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon. With estimated worldwide sales of more than 45 million units, Floyd’s eighth studio album became their most commercially successful record. Here is The Great Gig In The Sky featuring the amazing vocals of Clare Torry, who is co-credited for the tune together with Rick Wright. This track still gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. BTW, as I wrote this, it happened to be on the radio as part of Q104.3’s countdown of the 1,043 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time. While one can argue endlessly why certain songs make the list and their ranking positions, it’s a fun listening experience. I’ve written about the radio station’s annual tradition for the Thanksgiving holiday before, most recently here. BTW, The Great Gig In The Sky came in at no. 829 – way, way, way too low!😀

Have A Cigar was Roger Waters’ biting critique of hypocrisy and greed in the music industry. It appeared on Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album, the above mentioned Wish You Were Here from September 1975. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics: I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere/The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think/Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink? The lead vocals were provided by English folk rock singer Roy Harper, making it the only Floyd tune besides The Great Gig In The Sky that wasn’t sung by one of their members.

In January 1977, Pink Floyd’s tenth studio album Animals appeared. Loosely based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the concept album criticizes the social and political conditions in the U.K. at the time – two years before the leader of the Conservative Party Margaret Thatcher would become Prime Minister and a favorite target of Roger Waters. Here’s one of my favorite tracks from that album, Sheep, which like most tunes was solely written by Waters.

Perhaps the Pink Floyd song with the most epic guitar solo is Comfortably Numb, which was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. It appeared on the band’s 11th studio album The Wall, which came out in November 1979.

In September 1987, Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, their first record of the post-Waters area. Initially, David Gilmour set out to make it his third solo album, but things changed along the way. The record featured Nick Mason and Rick Wright, who was among the many guest musicians. Wright would later return to the band as a full member. Here’s the album’s closer Sorrow, which was written by Gilmour.

The last song I’d like to highlight is called High Hopes from Pink Floyd’s 14th studio album The Division Bell. Released in March 1994, it was the band’s final record issued during the lifetime of Rick Wright. He had an active role in writing much of the music with David Gilmour, while Gilmor’s  fiancée and novellist Polly Samson co-wrote many of the lyrics. High Hopes was credited to Gilmour and Samson.

Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. They also made the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. As of 2013, they had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, not only making them one of the most influential but also one of the most commercially successful bands of all time. While I don’t believe we will see another reincarnation of Pink Floyd, I’ve not doubt I’ll continue to enjoy their music, hopefully for many more years to come.

To those who celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Ladies Singing The Blues And Killing It

A playlist of five outstanding female artists who may not be top of mind when you think of the blues

If somebody asked you who comes to mind when thinking of the blues, you might mention artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton – all terrific choices! What else do they have in common? They are all men! Sure, if you dig the genre, you’ve probably also listened to Etta James, Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, and perhaps even to early trailblazers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton. But I bet you likely wouldn’t have included them in your answer to the above question. At least I can safely say that for myself!

Just like in so many other professions, music is yet another field where women oftentimes don’t get the credit they deserve. And it seems to me this is even more so the case for the blues compared to some other genres like jazz where you’d probably name Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, or soul where you’d likely include Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner when asked the above question.

The idea behind this playlist is fairly simple: Celebrate five female artists who shine at singing the blues. And to make this more interesting, I’m excluding some of the obvious choices like Etta James or Janis Joplin. All of the songs appear on the artists’ most recent albums from this year.

I’d like to give credit where credit is due. All of the artists highlighted in this post were included in an Apple Music blues playlist that was served up to me as a listening suggestion. When some of their names rang a bill, I decided to check the site of blues aficionado and fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast – BTW, a blog I can recommend to any music fan and guitarist! And, yep, he previously included four of the five artists on his blog. So kudos to Apple Music and Music Enthusiast!

I still think this doesn’t change the premise of this post, which is that female blues artists oftentimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. And while I’m under no illusion that this post isn’t coming anywhere close to making up for this unfortunate state of affairs, I guess it’s one post at a time. So with that, let’s finally get to it, shall we?

Kicking off the list is Lindsay Beaver with Too Cold To Cry. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Maybe somebody should change that. Luckily, she has a website, and according to the bio there, Beaver is a drummer, songwriter and bandleader from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. To date, she has self-released five albums with her band The 24th Street Wailers, of which she produced three. BTW, how many female record producers can you name? Just saying. This could be a good topic for another post. Written by Beaver, Too Cold To Cry appears on her new album Tough As Love, which was only released two weeks ago. As this clip suggests, Beaver seems to be one hell of a firecracker!

Next up: Shemekia Copeland and Ain’t Got Time For Hate. This blues vocalist, who was born in Harlem, New York is the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland. The tune is from an album called America’s Child, which came out in August. In addition to Copeland’s powerful voice, I dig the timely lyrics: Black and white/Gran or ten/Every woman/Child and man/Rich or poor/Gay or straight/We ain’t got time for hate… Well said!

Another gem is Shine Bright by Marcia Ball. This blues singer and kickass pianist from Vinton, La. has been around for a very long time. How long? How about 1970! Since 1972 she’s released 18 records. Shine Bright is the title track of her most recent album, which appeared in April. Check out this clip, which is actually a stripped back live take of the studio version. I can highly recommend the latter as well. I know this may sound a bit silly, but if you’d meet this lady in the street, unless you knew her, would you ever guess what a smoking hot artist she is – damn!

Danielle Nicole is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 (a nod to Led Zeppelin?) and was their lead vocalist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Here’s Crawl, a nice blues rocker from Nicole’s third solo record Cry No More from February.

The last outstanding artist I’d like to highlight in this post is Bettye LaVette. This singer-songwriter from Muskegon, Mich. also has been around for a long time. In fact, she recorded her first single My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man as a 16-year-old in 1962. Things Have Changed is the title track of LaVette’s last studio album from January – a collection of tunes written and originally sung by Bob Dylan. In this case, Dylan first released the song as a single in May 2000. It was part of a soundtrack from a motion picture called Wonder Boys.

Admittedly, I still don’t know much about the above artists. But based on the songs in this post and a few other tunes I’ve sampled from the corresponding albums, it’s obvious to me how top-notch each of them is. You can bet I’m going to further explore them.

Sources: Wikipedia, Lindsay Beaver website, YouTube

My Playlist: Wolf Maahn

The rock singer-songwriter has been a staple of the German music scene for more than three decades

I said it before and I say it again: Germany has more music artists to offer than the handful who have become popular internationally. While I’m not sure anybody cares, I can be stubborn to make my point, so I’m featuring another terrific singer-songwriter you probably haven’t heard of unless you grew up in Germany: Wolf Maahn. He burst on the music scene there in the mid ’80s with a great rock tune that could have been written by Bruce Springsteen. Similar to BAP, the rock band I explored two weeks ago here, most of Maahn’s sizable catalog is in German. And just like in their case, I’ve no doubt language is a significant factor explaining Maahn’s limited visibility beyond  Germany’s borders.

Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001. In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Wolf Maahn Rockpalast 1985
Wolf Maahn (l) and Axel Heilhecker at Rockpalast Night in Essen, Germany, March 1985

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites And kisses) appeared the following year. The band’s national breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) was released in 1984. In 1985, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure became the first German act to perform at Rockpalast Nacht, which was broadcast live in 17 European countries. I previously wrote about the famous music festival here, which between 1977 and 1986 drew artists like Rory Gallagher, ZZ Top, The Police and The Who. BTW, BAP performed there as well.

In 1988 after he had dissolved Deserteure two years earlier, Maahn came out with Third Language, which thus far remains the only English language album of his solo career. He has since released nine additional studio albums, four live records and one compilation. His most recent, the live album Live & Seele (live & soul), appeared in January 2017. Another notable thing about Maahn is his way to play the guitar – left handed with the strings placed in reverse order, i.e., e, b, g, D, A and E. Frankly, being a lefty is hard enough for me to imagine, but having the strings upside down is just impossible – well, evidently not. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with Die Sucht Der Träumer (the addiction of the dreamers). The tune is the opener of Maahn’s second solo album, the above mentioned Bisse Und  Küsse from 1983.

Fieber (fever) is from the breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland. The album gained further popularity in the wake of Maahn’s performance at Rockpalast and remained in the German LP charts for nine months. Fieber, the tune with the Springsteen vibe I noted in the introduction, became a major hit.

Another great tune is Ich Wart’ Auf Dich (I’m waiting for you).  Maahn recorded it for Kleine Helden (little heroes), the follow-on to Irgendwo In Deutschland released in 1986. Here is an extended version, or “maxi” as they called it in Germany at the time.

Next up: The title track of the Third Language album from 1988. It has a similar vibe to Ich Wart’ Auf Dich.

In 1991, Wolf Maahn released his seventh solo album Maahnsinn. The title’s similarity to the German word “Wahnsinn” (madness) is probably not a coincidence. Here’s Wenn Der Regen Kommt (when the rain is coming).

In Deinem Bett (in your bed) is a tune from Soul Maahn, Maahn’s 10th studio release from 1999.

In 2004, Wolf Maahn released his 11th studio album, Zauberstrassen (magic streets). Here is the catchy Schatzjäger (treasure hunter).

Kind Der Sterne (child of the stars) was a single from 2007. The song was also included on Maahn’s double live album Direkt Ins Blut 2 (directly into the bloodstream 2) – (Un)plugged, which appeared the same year.

March 2010 saw Maahn’s 12th studio release Vereinigte Staaten (United States). It was the first full album with all new material since Zauberstrassen. Here is the groovy Kannst Du Sehen (can you see) – love that tune!

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Wolf Maahn’s most recent studio release Sensible Daten (sensitive data), which came out in September 2015: Zoll Achtung! (attention customs!), another groovy tune.

After a 40-year-plus career (including Food Band), Wolf Maahn continues to do what a full bread music artist does: Rock on! His tour calendar for the remainder of the year shows a bunch of upcoming gigs in Germany solo and together with a backing band. In addition to being a music artist, the versatile Maahn has also worked as a producer, film score composer and actor over the years. While at age 63 it’s fair to say he’s a mature rocker, I don’t get the impression Maahn is thinking retirement any time soon. After all, compared to Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, he’s still a baby!

Sources: Wikipedia, Wolf Maahn website, YouTube

My Playlist: BAP

For more than 40 years, BAP has been one of the most successful rock bands in Germany

While in the U.S. and other countries Rammstein, Scorpions and Kraftwerk may be the best known German bands, Germany has much more to offer. A great example is BAP, a band that has been popular there for 40-plus years but isn’t known much beyond Germany and some of its immediate neighbor countries. They also happen to be one of my long-time favorite German rock bands. BTW, I also like the Scorpions. Since unlike the English-singing German hard rockers BAP performs most of their songs in a German dialect, I’m under no illusion that winning over non-German speaking readers is likely going to be a long shot at best. Nevertheless, I decided to put together this post and playlist, if only to prove that German contemporary music is more than heavy rock and electronic music.

The origins of BAP go back to 1976, when singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken formed an acoustic trio with guitarist Hans Heres and percussionist Afro Bauermann, and they started playing in the West German city of Cologne. Prior to that, Niedecken already had gained some local prominence as a solo artist performing Bob Dylan songs and as a painter. Dylan is one of his key music influences, along with Bruce Springsteen, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. In fact, Niedecken is friends with the Boss who occasionally has invited him on stage to play a song during Springsteen gigs in Germany.

BAP in 1980s
BAP in the early ’80s (from left): Wolfgang Boecker (drums), Manfred Boecker (percussion), Steve Borg (bass, cello), Wolfgang Niedecken (guitar, vocals), Klaus Heuser (guitar, vocals), Alexander Büchel (keyboards) and Hans Wollrath (sound engineer)

In November 1979, the band that by then had grown to a six-piece recorded their debut studio album Wolfgang Niedecken’s BAP rockt andere kölsche Leeder. In English this means something like “Wolfgang Niedecken’s BAP rocks other Kölsch songs.” The remainder of this post includes rough translations of song and album titles in parentheses. Kölsch is a German dialect spoken in the city of Cologne and surrounding areas. To this day, most BAP songs are performed in that dialect, with band leader and lead vocalist Niedecken remaining as the only original member. As somebody who grew up not far from Cologne, I can’t deny this dialect sounds charming to me and has a certain sentimental value.

Starting with their third studio album für usszeschnigge! (to cut out) from 1981, the band shortened their name from Wolfgang Niedecken’s BAP to just BAP. “Bap,” which is derived from the word “papa” (as in Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach) was the nickname for Niedecken, who used to call his father that way. The band, which went through various line-up changes over the decades, kept the name BAP until two long-time members Jürgen Zöller (drums) and Helmut Krumminga (lead guitar) left in September 2014. Following their departure, out what appears to be some frustration over yet another line-up change, 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
BAP in 2016 (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)

To date BAP have released 17 studio albums, seven live records and three compilations. With more than 5.9 million records sold and eleven no. 1 and 19 top 10 albums, BAP is one of the most successful German language rock bands. After their breakthrough album für usszeschnigge! from October 1981, BAP started touring throughout Germany. Eventually, they expanded to other European countries, including Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg. In October 1987, they even went to China, playing eight dates there. Niedecken who is politically active has also performed in Nicaragua and Mozambique. Yet BAP haven’t gained a footprint beyond the above European countries, which is likely due to the language barrier. Time for some music!

The first tune I’d like to highlight is Helfe Kann Dir Keiner (nobody can help you) from BAP’s second studio album Affjetaut (defrosted). Niedecken writes all of BAP’s lyrics. Sometimes, he has taken songs written by others, such as Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone or Death Of A Clown by The Kink’s Dave Davies and his brother Ray Davies, and translated/adapted them to Kölsch. The music is often written or co-written by other band members, in this case guitarist Klaus Heuser, who frequently assumed that role during his 19-year tenure with BAP.

Verdamp Lang Her (it’s been a long time) is one of BAP’s best known songs and remains a crowd pleaser during live shows to this day. Another Heuser/Niedecken co-write, the tune was first recorded by the band for their above mentioned studio release für usszeschnigge! The opening chord progression is the same as for Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Given Dylan’s influence on Niedecken, this may not be a coincidence, though I don’t know.

Next up: Alexandra, Nit Nur Do (Alexandra, you’re not the only one). Credited to Niedecken (lyrics) and BAP (music), the tune appeared on the band’s fifth studio album Zwesche Salzjebäck un Bier (between salt pretzels and beer), which appeared in May 1983.

In August 1989, BAP released their seventh studio record Da Capo. It was the first with Jürgen Zöller who replaced Pete King on drums, following his untimely death from cancer in 1987. Here is the great opener Stadt Im Niemandsland (city in no man’s land), which was co-written by Niedecken and Heuser. Check out the nice double lead guitar lines, which are bit reminiscent of Boston.

Amerika (America), another Niedecken/Heuser co-write, is the title track of BAP’s 10th studio release from August 1996. The song describes the impressions of a child witnessing the liberation of Nazi Germany by the Americans after the end of World War II. To give you a flavor, here’s a translated excerpt: So that’s how they look/check it out, there’s also a black guy among them/Look at the fellow on the tank, he’s eighteen at the most, and he liberated us/They warned us about them/Why did we believe all this crap?/These guys have been through so much/walking through mines from the [English] Channel all the way to here/It’s now nighttime where they are coming from/They are still sleeping there across the ocean/They have buildings higher than the dome [of Cologne]/ There’s jazz on the radio all day long…

The follow-on album to Amerika was Comics & Pin-Ups from January 1990. Here is the official video of Lena, a song co-written by Jens Streifling (horns, guitar) and Niedecken.

By the time BAP released their 13th studio album Aff Un Zo (every now and then) in June 2001, long-time members Klaus Heuser (guitar) and Alexander Büchel (keyboards) had left and been replaced by Helmut Krumminga and Michael Nass, respectively. Especially the departure of Heuser, who had been instrumental in writing the music for many of the band’s best known songs, marked the end of an era. But his successor, who like Heuser is a talented guitarist, quickly established himself and helped shape BAP’s sound for the next 15 years. In case you didn’t think Germans could play reggae, here’s the record’s title track.

In May 2008, Radio Pandora appeared. BAP’s 16th studio album was a major release featuring a plugged and an unplugged version. Eight of the 14 tracks on each record were different versions of the same songs, while the remaining six tunes were entirely different. Here’s a cool blues rocker from the plugged edition called Diego Paz Wohr Nüngzehn (Diego Paz was nineteen). It would make a good ZZ Top tune!

Another title track I’d like to highlight is Halv Su Wild (not a big deal). Co-written by Krumminga and Niedecken, the song appeared on BAP’s 17th studio album, the last featuring the guitarist and the band’s long-time ace drummer Jürgen Zöller. Here’s a nice clip of the catchy rock song.

The last tune I want to highlight is from the band’s most recent 18th studio album  Lebenslänglich, (sentenced to life), which came out in January 2016. Released as Niedeckens BAP, the record features Ulrich Rode as replacement for Krumminga.  Sönke Reich took over on drums for Zöller. As noted on BAP’s official website, the 35-year-old from the Northern German city of Hamburg is the only member who is younger than the band. Here’s a live clip of Dä Herrjott Meint Et Joot Met Mir (god has been good to me).

In March 2016, during a short trip to Germany, I had a chance to catch BAP in the Bavarian town of Neu-Ulm during their 40th anniversary tour. With the departure of Krumminga and Zöller, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a great show. BAP continues to rock on. Niedecken, who turned 67 in March, had a stroke in November 2011 from which he fully recovered. In addition to him, Rode and Reich, the band’s current line-up includes Werner Kopal (bass), Anne De Wolff (multi-instrumentalist) and Michael Nass (keyboards). The band is currently on a 2018 tour, which is mostly focused on Germany.

Sources: Wikipedia, BAP official website, YouTube

Three Chords, Straight Beats And Catchy Hooks

Status Quo have stayed true to their trademark boogie rock for more than 45 years

The other day, I spotted a live album from Status Quo called Down Down & Dirty At Wacken, (a place in northern Germany of an annual open air heavy metal festival), which was released only a couple of weeks ago. While starting to listen, I was reminded what a fun live band they are and how they’ve pretty much stuck with the same formula since 1970 when they changed from psychedelic to boogie rock. This brilliant insight inspired the idea of a post and playlist!🤓

The origins of Status Quo date back to 1962 when high school mates Frances Rossi (guitar), Alan Lancaster (bass), Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key (drums) formed a band called The Scorpions in London (not related to and predating the German hard rock band Scorpions by three years). In 1965, Rossi met guitarist Rick Parfitt. They became friends and later that year started what would become a longtime collaboration until Parfitt’s untimely death in December 2016 at the age of 68. The following summer, the band, which had changed their name to The Spectres, got their first record deal, with Piccadilly Records, and released various commercially unsuccessful singles.

By 1967, the band had embraced psychedelic music, became Traffic, then Traffic Jam to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic, and eventually Status Quo in August that year. Parfitt had joined them as rhythm guitarist the previous month. January 1968 saw the release of Status Quo’s first hit single Pictures Of Matchstick Men. This was followed by their debut studio album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From Status Quo in September – gee, what a memorable title!

Status Quo
Status Quo circa 1977 (from left): John Coghlan (drums), Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar, vocals), Alan Lancaster (bass, vocals), and Francis Rossi (lead guitar, vocals)

After the release and commercial failure of Status Quo’s second album Spare Parts in September 1969, the band decided to change their musical style to straight boogie-oriented rock – a decision that is safe to assume they didn’t regret! Piledriver, their fifth studio record from December 1972, finally brought the breakthrough, peaking at no. 5 in the U.K. charts. Since then, Status Quo have released 27 additional studio albums. Their impressive catalog also includes 10 live records and nine compilations.

Given the band’s faithful adherence to the three-chord boogie rock formula, their music starts sounding repetitive after a little while. But so do Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys’ surf rock, to name two artists who spontaneously came to mind! Besides, if it’s fun, who cares! Okay, enough of the blah-blah-blah and time for some of that repetitive music!😆

While the band’s psychedelic phase was comparatively short, it’s still part of their long history, so I’d be amiss not to acknowledge it. My favorite tune I know from that phase is the above mentioned Pictures Of Matchstick Men, which was written by Rossi. It climbed to no. 7 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached the top 10 in many other European countries. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only Status Quo song that got noticed in America. In addition to its release as a single, it was also included on the band’s debut album.

Next Up: Paper Plane from the Piledriver album. The song was co-written by Rossi and Bob Young. Since 1969, Young had contributed to writing Status Quo’s music and was often called their unofficial fifth member. He frequently joined the band during live performances in the ’70s and also occasionally thereafter.

Another co-write by Rossi and Young is Caroline, which became a no. 5 hit in the U.K. in August 1973, Status Quo’s highest charting single at the time. The tune was also included on the band’s sixth studio album Hello!, which appeared in September that year.

In November 1974, Status Quo scored their first of two no. 1 singles in the U.K. with Down Down. Yet another Rossi/Young co-write, the song also appeared on the band’s eighth studio record On The Level from February 1975.

Perhaps my favorite Status Quo tune is Rockin’ All Over The World. As a boogie rock fan, how can you not love that tune, which was written and first recorded by the great John Fogerty in 1975! Status Quo released their cover as a single in September 1977. It also became the title track of their tenth studio album that came out in November the same year. Since this tune is made for live performances, I chose the following clip captured during a 1990 concert in Knebworth, England.

Whatever You Want is another Status Quo classic. It was co-written by Parfitt and keyboarder Andy Bown, who has performed on all of the band’s albums since Rockin’ All Over The World and became a full member in 1982. One of the things I’ve always liked about this tune is the cool-sounding guitar intro.

Status Quo’s biggest hit in the ’80s was their cover of Bolland & Bolland’s In The Army Now from September 1986, which topped the charts in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. In the U.K., the tune peaked at no. 2. Since I’m not particularly fond of it, I’m highlighting another cover instead: The Wanderer from October 1984. Written by Ernie Maresca, the tune was first recorded and released by Dion in November 1961. While I prefer the original, Quo’s cover isn’t bad either.

To make this playlist career-spanning, I also like to touch on Status Quo’s music beyond the ’80s. Since I’m basically not familiar with it, it’s a bit of a challenge. As such, the remaining selections for this playlist are somewhat arbitrary. Here’s Can’t Give You More from the band’s 20th studio album Rock ‘Til You Drop, which appeared in September 1991. Written by Bown, the tune is another typical Status Quo boogie rocker – if you like Quo’s ’70s music, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2002, Status Quo released Heavy Traffic, their 25th studio record, which peaked at no. 15 on the charts in the U.K. and earned them silver status there. Here’s Creepin’ Up On You, which was co-written by Parfitt and then-Quo bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. It’s shuffling along nicely!

The final studio release I’d like to touch on is called Acoustic (Stripped Bare) from October 2014. It’s a compilation of stripped down versions of previously recorded Status Quo songs. While there’s no new material here, I’m kind of intrigued by this album and will probably further explore it. The record became another success for Quo in the U.K., climbing to no. 5 on the charts and earning Gold certification there – not to shabby for a band that by then had been around for 52 years, if you include their 1962 origins; if you start counting from when they became Status Quo, it still adds up to a mighty 47 years! Here’s Again And Again, a tune credited to Parfitt, Bown and Jackie Lynton, and first recorded for the band’s 11th studio album If You Can’t Stand The Heat from October 1978. It’s got a nice Cajun feel to it!

So what’s going on with Status Quo these days? Well, it’s more three chords, straight beats and catchy boogie rock – in other words the status quo – that was clever, huh?🤓 Rossi remains the only founding member. Bown (keyboards) and Edwards (bass) are still around as well. The current lineup, pictured on top of the post, is rounded out by Leon Cave (drums) and Richie Malone (rhythm guitar), who replaced Parfitt in July 2016, after he had suffered a stroke and could no longer perform.

I already mentioned the new live album. In addition, a look on setlist.fm revealed the band has been pretty busy touring Europe since May. The current tour schedule on their website shows upcoming gigs in Lisbon, Portugal (Sep 29); Innsbruck, Austria (Oct 4); Kempten, Germany (Oct 5); and Zurich, Switzerland (Oct 6).

Sources: Wikipedia, Status Quo official website, setlist.fm, YouTube